I do not wish to litigate or interrogate the case of Herbert Kabafunzaki, a Ugandan MP who is accused of corruption, to which he has pleaded not guilty. It is a matter for the courts to settle and it is not the purpose of this post.

My interest is in social status and justice in Uganda. I am struck by a report on Kampala’s 93.3 KFM, quoting one of the reasons given by a state prosecutor for committing the MP and his two co-accused to trial in the High Court of Uganda, instead of a magistrate’s court.

Speaking on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Ms. Barbara Kauma, the Principal State Attorney, reportedly informed Ms. Agnes Alum, the presiding chief magistrate, that given the circumstances surrounding this case and the status of the accused persons, a judge would be in the best position to conduct this trial.

This raises a few simple questions: Does social and/or economic status determine justice in Uganda? Is it not the nature of the alleged crime that normally determines where the case is tried?  If a person’s social status is the determinant, why is it that Dr. Kizza Besigye, a former government minister, former party leader and former presidential candidate, has been taken to magistrates’ courts for his various alleged crimes against the state?  Just curious.



2 Responses to “Social status and justice in Uganda”

  1. Bruce Kyerere

    You are absolutely right, – it is NOT one’s status (social, economic or political) but rather the NATURE of the Crime (or the gravity of the offence, if you like) one is accused of, – which determines which Court one will be tried in . We call this “Jurisfiction” or simply which level of Judicial Officer (Magistrate or Judge) has the power to hear and handle the trial/ hearing of which case.
    As such, the alleged statement by the Principal State Attorney quoted is either outrightly wrong or she was quoted out of context.. Unfortunately I have not had the benefit of listening in to the Radio caption mentioned or even know how the question she was answering to was framed, because that also determines the nature of the response given; – perhaps that was a mere off-cuff humorous remark in response to an equally comical or cynical comment by the journalist who interviewed her and not one that was intended to give the actual and or technical explanation as to why the minister was being committed to the High Court.

  2. What a shame that it should take a medical practitioner to raise a question of such jurisprudence significance.

    In so far as I Know, all criminal legal proceedings commence their life in a Magistrate’s Court in all common law jurisdictions. And 90% of all criminal proceedings start and end in the Magistrate’s Court. The only exception should be based on procedural laws, statutes, regulations, and or precedents as set down by superior courts. The status of the accused should never be an issue in deciding the matter. I cannot imagine a higher status individual than the Australian Cardinal, Cardinal George Pell. He is despite his status, presently travelling to Australia to answer sexual abuse charges in a Magistrate’s Court.

    The only observation I can make on the situation raised by Dr. Mulera, is that it bespeaks powerfully to the paucity of legal scholarship in Uganda.


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