11 January 2019

Uganda: Confusion As Debate On Death Penalty Bill Aborts

Parliament — Debate on the proposed death penalty Bill that seeks to eliminate mandatory death sentence for murder cases was aborted yesterday after lawmakers failed to read and internalise its principles.

This was the second time the "law revision (penalties in criminal matters) miscellaneous (amendment) Bill, 2015 was being differed.

On Wednesday, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Mr Jacob Oulanyah, deferred the debate after realising that most of the legislators had not clearly read the provisions and the corresponding report from the House Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.

Introduced to Parliament as a Private Member's Bill two years ago by Busiro East MP Medard Sseggona (DP), the Bill seeks to harmonise Uganda's criminal justice system by eliminating mandatory death sentence for murder cases.

At the core of the Bill is the need to amend Penal Code Act, Cap 120, the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2002, the Uganda People's Defence Forces Act, 2005, and the Trial on Indictment Act, Cap 23 "by removing all references to the mandatory death penalty prescribed in the laws and to restrict the application of the death penalty to 'the most serious crimes."

The Bill also seeks to remove the restriction on mitigation in the case of convictions that carry a death penalty and related matters.

However, when the matter returned to Parliament for second reading yesterday, many legislators treated it as a two-sided Bill, supporting the retention of death penalty in the laws on one hand, or having it completely scrapped and replaced with life imprisonment on the other hand.

However, Mr Sseggona appealed to his colleagues to tow the correct line. "Whereas I am not shy to say I am against the death penalty in all forms, the Bill is not saying that abolish that penalty, it is talking about the substitution of the sentence in light of the [court] decision in the Kigula case," he said.

The MP said since the Supreme Court expunged the "mandatoriness" of a death penalty as unconstitutional, it makes the current legal regime on murder implementable since the offence has no spelt sanctions.

As contestations kept rising with Mr Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga, NRM) pointing his colleagues to a report that recommended the scrapping of the word "death penalty" and having it replaced with "life imprisonment," government stepped in to have the debate suspended.

Mr David Bahati, the State minister of Finance for Planning, said government needs more time to study both the Bill and its report, adding that the MPs too required the same.

Mr Oulanyah said there were discrepancies in the report and Mr Sseggona's explanation.

"I think we have a legitimate problem that we have to deal with; so as you go to use these usual channels (discussion for harmonised position) ensure, the content of the proposed legislation must correspond with its report," he said.

The Deputy Speaker also asked the players (government and committee) to remove "all those channels that provide for death penalty to be replaced with life imprisonment."

Mr Oulanyah asked them to fix the matter in a period of one week.

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