Uganda’s Anti-Corruption division of the High Court finds that the political leaders are criminally liable, and such liability is individual.
In a famous ruling delivered at the court premises in Kololo, within the heart of Uganda`s capital Kampala—High Court Judge Lawrence Gidudu on 4th July 2023 found that there is nothing that is unconstitutional or violates the rights of political leaders when criminal charges are slapped onto them.
The background of the case before the court is that on 12th January 2023, an internal memo was written by the minister for Karamoja Affairs requesting 12,200 iron sheets for those people in Karamoja that were willing to stop cattle rustling.
These iron sheets, unfortunately, did not reach the intended beneficiaries, but rather, a section of political leaders shared them, an act that prompted the office of the Director of public prosecutions to swing in together with the police to arrest the suspects, investigate and unleash the full force of the law under Uganda`s the Anti-Corruption Act.
The applicant challenged these actions saying they infringe on the constitutional rights of the political leaders.
The court, while rejecting the argument that it shouldn’t have been the political leaders subjected to the force of the law but rather the technical people like accountants, secretaries etc.—the court while relying on a wealth of superior court decisions observed and held that there’s nothing in Uganda`s legal regime that insulates the political leaders from the individual criminality.
His Lordship Gidudu L observed that there is a thin line between the criminal insulation given to the president and that of other political leaders—the difference being in only the timing. The president`s insulation against criminal charges lapses with the vacation of office whilst that of the “subordinates” has no time limit—they can be prosecuted on time without further delay following the law.
Any immunity is an operation of the law, not mere wishes of the principle. The court further observed that not even the president could give immunity—it must be born in the legal regime, which in the circumstances, the court was at pains in finding anything protecting the said political leaders in the infamous iron sheets scandal from individual criminal liability.
The court further held that according to the evidence led, there was no evidence to show how the acts of the office of the director of public prosecutions and the Uganda Police violated the constitutional rights of the political leaders.
In his parting shorts, the learned judge observed that if the legal system were designed to insulate politicians from individual criminal responsibility, a country would descend into corruption and impunity. No free and democratic society allows it.
The decision has been welcomed by Human rights defenders, activists and defenders as a milestone in the fight against impunity and a bid to uphold the rule of law.
The political leaders indicted in the scandal are yet to have their cases concluded by due process of the law.
The Author, Simon Nyakoojo, is a Senior Legal Writer and Founding Partner at the Judicial Sound Exponent. If you think we can improve this article or have any queries, please email us via [email protected]