In a move that will undermine the conventional right to bail, judges are being advised to be reluctant to grant bail to people appealing convictions.
Acting Chief Justice Steven Kavuma announced last week that instead, the judiciary would focus on handling appeals in a speedy manner.
Speaking at the launch of the judicial Anti-Corruption Plan of Action, Friday, Kavuma said that with more Judges appointed to the bench, the judiciary was putting more emphasis on disposing of criminal cases both in the lower courts and appellant courts than on granting bail to suspects who appeal.
Justice Kavuma announced this after Principal Judge Justice Yorokamu Bamwine announced that the judiciary had disposed of all backlog cases which were pending before the appointment of new judges.
"My lord, Acting Chief Justice, I want to inform all participants that we have disposed of all backlogs of cases and if there is an old case not dealt with, that is a mistake which must be reported immediately," Bamwine said.
Bamwine says some litigants, who are granted bail pending an appeal, often, meet magistrates and judges who sent them to jail and threaten them.
"They [litigants] point fingers at them [judges] saying that 'you remanded me but I'm out now'," Bamwine said.
In response, Kavuma said unlike in the past when judges hearing bail applications would use their discretion especially in special circumstances where the applicant is of advanced age or seriously sick, the new approach was for courts to ignore bail applications and instead expeditiously hear the appeal cases.
This will come as good news for President Museveni, who has severally called for legislation that would deny bail to riot, rape and corruption suspects.
The first victims of this new rule were Soroti Municipality MP Mike Mukula and the former Principal Accountant in the Office of the Prime Minister, Geoffrey Kazinda.
Mukula was denied bail by Justice David Wangutusi, and instead offered a speedy hearing of his appeal. Mukula had already filed an appeal in the High court (anti-corruption division), against his conviction and the four-year prison term, handed down by Anti-Corruption court Chief Magistrate Irene Akankwasa. Justice Wangutusi eventually acquitted Mukula.
Similarly, the convicted Kazinda was also denied bail by Justice Wangutusi on grounds that his trial would be expeditiously heard. Kazinda was facing charges of abuse of office, making documents without authority, forgery and unlawful possession of government stores. He was sentenced to five years in jail.
At Friday's function, a 2012 Annual Nationwide Field Visits report, written by the Judicial Integrity Committee (JIK), was launched. Presenting the report, JIK head Jotham Tumwesigye said they found corruption more rampant in magistrates' courts countrywide.
"Apart from various complaints regarding some magistrates soliciting for bribes, complaints about rampant absenteeism among judicial officers are still persistent and there was no visible evidence that the judiciary has addressed this problem," said Tumwesigye, a Supreme court justice.
"Stakeholders complained that magistrates were absent without prior notice, leading to unnecessary adjournments."
He singled out Nakawa High Court Circuit, where it was found that some clerks passed themselves off as 'judges' and 'magistrates' and solicited money from litigants. In many areas visited, support staff solicited money to draft and process court documents for litigants and that sometimes they had vested interests and ended up mistreating the opposite party.
"In all areas visited, process servers are facilitated by litigants to effect service which is perceived as corruption since this money is not receipted. A participant from Omoro sub county in Alebtong district informed a public meeting that he had paid a court clerk in Alebtong court Shs 70,000 to serve court summons for a distance of not more than a mile from the court," Tumwesigye added.
Presenting his paper, Justice Bamwine said some of the magistrates caught in the act of corruption included one in Kisoro, and a chief magistrate arrested for accepting a bribe.
"We know of judicial officers who have been nabbed on suspicion of receiving bribes and have proved to have done so beyond reasonable doubt. So we cannot bury our heads in the sand, like the proverbial ostrich and pretend that corruption is in all arms of government, except the judiciary," said Bamwine, adding that the first step to fight corruption is to accept that it exists.
Bamwine vowed that corruption would now not be accommodated in the administration of justice.
"Today's launch is a clear testimony that the judiciary is determined to fight corruption from within and outside. As the strategy shows, corruption is not about bribery only. It is about late reporting for work, knocking off from work too early, absenteeism, laziness, poor work ethics, delayed judgments and other corrupt tendencies. These vices have greatly dented the image of the judiciary," Bamwine added.
Criticising those who undermined the Constitutional court, which he referred to as a giant court under the law, Kavuma also added his voice to the fight against corruption, saying the judiciary would continue to demand zero tolerance to corruption.
"The judiciary will continue to exercise its independence in the discharge of its constitutional mandate and it is ready to defend and uphold the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda as by law established. The battle has just begun. The struggle continues and victory is certain," Kavuma added.
Donors, justices, magistrates, invited lawyers, police, prison officers and other members of the Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS) attended.