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Activists’ petition court over cash bail

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Human rights activists have petitioned court, challenging the legality of cash bail conditions in the country.

The petitioners want Section 78(b) of the Magistrates Courts Act, Cap. 16, be nullified in light of human rights provisions embedded under Chapter 4 of the Constitution of Uganda.

The petitioners argue that cash bail mates a lot of injustices against accused persons under our criminal justice system and depicts the concept of commercialization of human rights akin to justice for sale.

Prisoners who are granted bail with cash conditions are further remanded for a simple reason of inability to pay.

The petitioners, who include Kuuku Amos, a lawyer, Kasule Ezekiel, and Kajubi Frank, both victims of cash bail, had been on remand for a long period that qualified him for mandatory bail. 

Section 78(b) of the Magistrates Courts Act requires a person seeking bail to deposit a sum of money to such an amount as the court or officer may fix in lieu of executing such a bond.

The petitioners contend that Section 78(b) of the Magistrates Courts Act is in contravention of Article 21 of the Constitution because it is discriminatory against the poor compared to those with resources and capacity to pay as and when cash is set as a condition for their bail.

Cash bail also contravenes Article 23(6) because it is unreasonable for a court of justice to require a person to pay a specific amount of money without first investigating whether that person has capacity to pay, and further contravenes Article 28 because it violates the right to a fair hearing and defeats the presumption of innocence.

“The petitioners contend that Section 78(b) of the Magistrates Courts Act, Cap. 16, is inconsistent and in contravention of Article 126(2)(a) of the Constitution in so far as it restricts access to bail relief based on economic status,” the petition reads in part.

They further stated that the condition of cash bail contravenes and is inconsistent with Article 23(6)(b)(c) of the Constitution in so far as it imposes a cash bail condition on accused persons that have qualified for mandatory bail upon expiration of the mandatory remand period. 

“Cash bail conditions are one of the contributing factors to prison congestion, which is currently standing at 75,000 as against the approved capacity of Ugandan prison facilities, which is 20,000 prisoners. It also prohibits potential bail applicants for fear of cash conditions,” they said.

It is claimed that it is unjust for applicants who satisfy all the conditions to be granted bail, including presenting credible and substantial sureties, not interfere with investigations of the case, not pose a threat to public security, not prejudice the security of the complainant, not pose a flight risk, and that the court requires them to pay money for bail, including those whose remand period has qualified them for mandatory bail.

“The petition intends to ensure access to bail relief as a pre-trial remedy for all persons, including the poor, and eradicating barriers to access to justice for all,” reads part of the petition.

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