KAMPALA – Chief Justice Alphonse Owiny-Dollo’s has come under fire for his recent claim that the trial of the Makindye West Member of Parliament, Allan Ssewanyana and his Kawempe North counterpart, Muhammad Ssegirinya would be handled expeditiously – once it begins.
The Leader of Opposition in Parliament – LoP, Mathias Mpuuga said – shortly after visiting Kigo prisons where the legislators have since September 2021 been on remanded that the Chief Justice seem to have woken up at a wrong time.
The legislators were remanded on charges of terrorism, murder, attempted murder, and aiding and abetting terrorism. They were committed to the High Court for trial in March 2022 alongside Wilson Ssenyonga alias Tony Nyonga for the murder of Joseph Bwanika.
“I want to advise the honourable Chief Justice that the detention of these two members vacated all tenets of a free, fair, speedy trial.
“So, there is no amount of speeding that he is talking about. Probably he had woken up after a long slumber to realize that the courts have been taken over. We want to invite him to take charge of courts as Chief Justice. I don’t know why he has to wake up last week to say they are going to go through a quick trial,” said Mpuuga.
On Friday, Chief Justice Alphonse Owiny-Dollo put the State on notice – saying that he would not entertain ‘dilly-dallying’ when the trial of Ssewanyana and Ssegirinya takes off. During the opening of the New Law Year 2023, at High Court premises in Kampala – Dollo said the Judiciary will not accept any excuse, insisting that the MPs will be tried under his watch.
“Let me say this to the state, you are the one who brought these accused persons to court. You made allegations against them. The law says they are innocent until you prove the matter in court. When the trial begins and it will begin soon, there will be no dilly-allying, and there will be no games. The State has brought them, the state has got the capacity to bring all its witnesses,” said Dollo.
The Chief Justice also said that he intended to pass the same caution to the trial judge to entertain no games when the trial begins.
“Don’t entertain any nonsense in the trial of these Members of Parliament. They are public figures. Not because they are Members of Parliament but because they are public figures. They must be tried according to the law,” he said.
However, Mpuuga said that the Chief Justice’s statements were late since the two MPs have been in detention for more than a year something he described as unconstitutional and borders on illegality.
“One and a half years on remand, without bail…he does not want to share with us why judges were being changed and eventually, we get a statement from Mr (Yoweri) Museveni to the effect that he is thankful to the Judiciary for implementing his views on bail.
“So is it wrong to suggest that their detention is an answer to Mr Museveni’s quest to deny suspects bail?” asked Mpuuga – who doubles as the Nyendo-Mukungwe legislator.
Mpuuga in the company of several opposition MPs were blocked from visiting Ssewanyana who is indisposed at Kigo prison as authorities claimed that remanded MP had declined to meet any visitors.
He was in the company of the Mawokota South MP, Yusuf Nsibambi, Mityana Woman MP Joyce Bagala, Kalangala Woman MP, Helen Nakimuli, Hoima City Woman MP Asinansi Nyakato, Bukomansimbi South MP, Godfrey Kayemba Solo and Bamunanika MP, Robert Ssekitooleko. However, Mpuuga managed to interact with the Kawempe North MP, Ssegirinya.
Mpuuga tasked the Commissioner General of Prisons, Dr Johnson Byabashaija to explain why they have not honoured a court order to ensure that Ssewanyana got specialised medical attention. Ssegirinya who was arrested together with Ssewanyana told Mpuuga and the other legislators that for about three weeks, his colleague hadn’t been eating – and can’t support himself to sit or walk.