Kampala — Police cells are flooded as judicial officers' strike enters the second week, police spokesperson, Asan Kasingye, said yesterday.
Mr Kasingye, while at a weekly national security briefing, said all their 1,083 stations are stranded with suspects because of the ongoing judges and magistrates' strike.
Police said they were facing difficulty on releasing suspects on capital offences within 48 hours stipulated in the constitution.
Article 23 (4) of the 1995 Constitution provides that a person arrested or detained for the purpose of bringing him or her before a court in execution of an order of a court; or upon reasonable suspicion of his or her having committed or being about to commit a criminal offence under the laws of Uganda, shall, if not earlier released, be brought to court as soon as possible but in any case not later than forty-eight hours from the time of his or her arrest.
"We have several suspects in our custody. Some of these are facing capital crimes like murder.
The constitution says a suspect should be arraigned before court within 48 hours or be released on police bond. We really don't know what to do. We can't release them because they may escape and go beyond borders," Mr Kasingye said.
Mr Kasingye pleaded with the concerned parties to intervene in the judicial officers' strike since it greatly impacts the force's efforts to keep law and order. Last week, the judicial officers started a protest over low wages and demanding their emoluments to be increased. It is not clear when the strike will be called off.
The judicial officers' strike has not only caused flooding in police cells but also increased police expenses on suspects.
Mr Kasingye said police was spending a lot of money on suspects yet some of them could have been released on court bail, police bond or remanded.
Police said the money is being spent on providing medical care, power, water, bathrooms and food.
"I am yet to get the total number of suspects currently in our custody. But I can tell you that we have suspects in almost all our 1,083 stations. We spend on providing them with food, power and water," Mr Kasingye said.
Dr Livingstone Ssewanyana, a human rights defender, urged government to address the judicial officers' demands so that the justice process is not flouted.
He warned that failure on the side of the government to come up with the comprehensive plan addressing the judicial officers' requests would hamper all the operations of other justice institutions like the police and prisons. He added that it would violate the constitution that provides for a 48 hours rule.
"This is not the first time the judicial officers have gone on strike. In the previous strike, the government made promises which were never fulfilled. Their strike affects the justice system. Police cannot release all suspects on bond because some are capital offenders," Dr Ssewanyana said.
Dr Ssewanyana wondered why government reacts fast on MPs and bureaucrats' demands and ignores the third arm that is crucial in promoting rule of law in society.
Mr Kasingye said some suspects had started taking advantage of the situation by escaping from cells. He said 13 suspects escaped from Gulu and Sheema cells at the weekend.
The suspects on run include three on murder charges while others are on robbery and burglary charges.