8 February 2013

Tanzania: Illegal Mob Justice Seen Increasing in Kagera

Bukoba — JUSTICE Gaddy Mjemmas of Kagera High Court has reiterated the need for residents to respect the rule of law by avoiding mob justice.

Justice Mjemmas was speaking in Bukoba Municipality during a National Law Day that is celebrated each year throughout the country. The Justice expressed deep concern warning that residents should refrain from taking the law into their own hands by assaulting or even lynching suspected criminals.

He insisted that the suspects have to be taken to courts of law. He noted with concern that incidents of mob justice were on the increase, whereby innocent people were assaulted, injured or even killed on mere suspicions. In some incidents banana plantations were also destroyed.

Justice Mjemmas said the rule of law should always prevail basing on presumption of innocence. "No person should be punished before being heard," he emphasized. He urged judges, magistrates and leaders to take a holistic approach by being exemplary in adhering to the rule of law.

He appealed to the government to provide lawyers to people who cannot afford to pay legal fees, especially those facing charges that carry maximum sentences. He challenged the government to educate the public on issues related to the rule of law.

He also appealed for increased budget allocation to the judiciary and better working conditions for judges and magistrates including construction of decent offices and houses. Meanwhile, Judge Gaddy also has recommended a review of some of the laws that discriminate and interfere with smooth administration of justice.

He has also directed magistrates and other state organs involved in giving justice to consider giving alternative sentences instead of custodial sentences for minor criminal offences. He noted that prisons at Bukoba, Biharamulo, Ngara, Karagwe and Muleba districts were overcrowded.

"It is very unfortunate that most magistrates give custodial sentences even for minor criminal offences. This attitude should now change to solve the problem of congestion of prisoners and inmates in our prison cells," he said. He also said some of the laws passed by Parliament were "very cruel".

They bound the hands of magistrates and judges, by not giving them (magistrates/ judges) room to consider giving alternative sentence. Citing an example, he said courts are often faced with difficulty when a young man aged 19 is brought before the court accused of 'raping' a girl aged 16 years.

"I am a judge but also at same time a parent. Just imagine sentencing such a young man to life imprisonment or 30 years imprisonment. Some offences are accidental and the offender could benefit by getting an alternative sentence," he said. He appealed to Parliament to review some of the laws to enable the society to benefit from the alternative sentence system.

Judge Mjemmas also called upon the public to change attitude of thinking that alternative sentences only favour the accused. He said shortage of Community Service Officers also negatively affects the administration of justice because magistrates and judges cannot easily know the background of an accused brought before the court.

He said the officers were very important by assisting the court in determining the sentence basing on the background of an accused person. This year's theme was 'the Rule of Law: Its importance and strengthening'.

Earlier, Advocate Aaron Kabunga, who is also chairman of the Kagera branch of Tanganyika Law Society (TLS), called for abolition of the 40 'most oppressive laws' which were identified by a special Commission headed by former Chief Justice Francis Nyalali.

The outdated laws include the Detention Act and the Deportation Act. He also said time was ripe to have an independent Judicial Commission which would be tasked with appointment of judges instead of the present system, whereby judges were appointed by the President.

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