On Justifying Rights of Accused Persons under Uganda’s Court processes

In this paper, I write as the philosopher, Martin Luther, would on this topic. Enjoy the read.

An accused person is a person who has been blamed for wrongdoing, especially a person who has been arrested and brought before a magistrate or who has been formally charged with a crime as by indictment or information. A right is an interest recognised and is proper under law, morality or ethics, respect of which is a duty and disregard of which is in a way an offence. What does this mean? It means that a right is correlative to a duty; where there is no right, there is no duty.

Now, you may ask: Why respect the rights of accused persons? Are they not evil doers who deserve to be punished?, The answer is this: Even though an accused person be guilty of an offence and deserving of punishment, it does not make him any less of a human being deserving of equal rights and humane treatment like any other human being. And moreover, it is embedded in Article 20(1) of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, that “Fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual are inherent and not granted by the state.” So, since we know that human rights are inherent, why would we (the state) then, who did not grant anybody these rights deprive others of them? Is the Constitution not the supreme law of the land? Wouldn’t we be in err if we acted contrary to the provisions embedded in it? I believe that rights of an accused person are absolute and regardless of the fact that they have committed wrong and are deserving of punishment such as imprisonment, confinement, etc. It should never be interpreted as a loss of rights accrued to them by virtue of being an individual. Whatever form of punishment to be received by these accused persons must be within the periphery of law. Their rights remain and need to be respected. Furthermore, the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda provides under Article 28(1) that “In the determination of civil rights and obligations or any criminal charge, a person shall be entitled to a fair, speedy and public hearing before an independent and impartial court established by law”. Article 28 (3) further provides that “Every person charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty”. What does this mean? Accused persons still have rights that should be upheld regardless of the fact that it is assumed that they are guilty of committing that offence. This is on the basis of the ground that they are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The above constitutional provisions are going to be the basis for arguing for justification for accused persons rights under Uganda’s court processes.         

This argument is expounded on in the following discussion.

Before we delve into the justification of the rights of the accused, I will tell you what I consider to be a sound basis for the civil law, which is the authority with the jurisdiction to punish wrongdoers. There are two kingdoms which are; the kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the world, which happens to be the civil authority. Civil law is in the world by God’s will and ordinance. As the Apostle Paul says in Romans 13: 1-2, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authority, for there is no authority except from God; the authority which everywhere exists has been ordained by God. He then who resists the governing authority resists the ordinance of God, and he who resists God’s ordinance will incur judgement”. We are to subject ourselves to the civil authority which has been ordained by God as the governing authority in the world. The civil authority is to work by offering protection for the upright and punishment for the wicked. 1st Peter 2:13-14, says “Be subject to every kind of human ordinance, whether it be to the king as supreme, or to governors, as those who have been sent by him to punish the wicked and to praise the righteous”. It is God’s will that the temporal authority and the sword be used for the punishment of the wicked and protection of the upright. It is a law laid down not for the just but for the lawless.

Having received a background of what the civil law is, I will expound on justification of the rights of accused persons. First, I find it very appalling and unfortunate that the civil authority would dim it fit to rip accused persons clean of their rights because they are presumed to have committed an evil act. The 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda provides under Article 28(1) that “In the determination of civil rights and obligations or any criminal charge, a person shall be entitled to a fair, speedy and public hearing before an independent and impartial court established by law” In regards to the above provision, I am of the view that justification of the rights of accused persons should involve the civil authority critically looking into the alleged cases of these accused persons so as to uphold their right to a speedy and fair hearing. What does this therefore mean? It means that a judgement reached short of all principles enshrined in the right to a fair hearing is a violation of accused persons’ rights. Before passing a judgement, this civil authority needs to ensure that it is certain of why the accused is before it, and should even be more certain that the accused is taken through all due process to reach the said judgement because we cannot conceive how an authority would or should act in a situation except where it can see, know, judge, condemn, change and modify. What would we think of a judge who should blindly decide cases which he neither hears nor sees? A court should and must be quite certain of anything if it is to render judgement. So, a question may then be asked; How then would a court be certain of anything it is to render judgement on? The answer is simple – by adhering to the principles on a right to a fair hearing as enshrined in Article 28 hence upholding rights of accused persons.

Furthermore, the temporal authority, which happens to be the civil authority is called upon to punish the wicked. I think it absurd to believe that punishment of the wicked involves denying them of their rights, which are absolute. Besides, we need to always bear in mind that the two kingdoms that were earlier discussed. These exist in separate realms. One is the kingdom of God and the other is the kingdom of the world. It is near impossible to exist in a single realm because I assure you that it is almost impossible to find a real Christian who practices Christianity truly. This therefore means that everyone is susceptible to sin and committing of evil acts because the existence of these two kingdoms broadly signify the communities of fallen, corrupted human nature and of humanity united to Christ. Therefore, it is only inevitable that in the kingdom of the world which is corrupted by human nature, we are mindful of the fact truth that sin is alien to no man and anyone can be in the position of an accused person. So, here is a question: Since we have established the kingdom of the world to be one of fallen, corrupted human nature, why therefore treat accused persons like they are any less than other people? Why behave like we are totally free of sin and evil nature and can never stumble? Are these accused people any less human than we are? I would think it foolish for a man to answer these questions in the affirmative because it points toward a disregard for the rights of accused persons yet anyone would find themselves in that position.

While dealing with matters relating to accused persons, the civil authority needs to uphold their right to a fair hearing as provided for under Article 28. This is because due to human nature, it is not surprising that some people are accused falsely, for the carnal nature of man violently rebels, it greatly delights in boasting of its own righteousness, and in its neighbour’s shame and embarrassment. What does this mean? It means that it pleads its own case and it rejoices that it is better than its neighbour’s while it opposes the case of its neighbor and wants to appear callous. Yet you do know that it is said in Matthew 7:12 that “Therefore all things whatsoever you do would that men should do to you, do even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” However, the carnal nature of man is prone to further its own interests at the expense of others. What then does this mean? It means that some accused persons are victims of this evil nature of man and therefore it would be unfair that their rights are overlooked. But you may say, “Is it not permissible to chasten evil men? Is it not proper to punish sin? Who is not obliged to defend righteousness? To do otherwise would give room for lawlessness”. I answer. A single solution to this problem cannot be given. Therefore, this is why one must be sure to distinguish among men because men can be classified either as public or private individuals. This is how the “…. before an independent and impartial court” comes in. An accused person’s right to appear before an independent and impartial court needs to be upheld by actually ensuring that the accused appears before the said court (which in this case happens to be officiated by public individuals placed in public office by God) for judgement and is not judged basing only on what a private individual said. It is a necessary function of public individuals to punish and judge evil men, to vindicate and defend the oppressed, because since they are servants of God, it is not they, but God who does this. As the apostle says in Romans 13:4 “….he does not bear the sword in vain”. To stress the principle of impartiality/independence of the court even more, the public officer is authorized to judge an accused only on the cases of other men, but not to one’s own case. What does this mean? It means that if, however, a public officer had a case of his own, let him ask for someone other than himself to be God’s representative, for in that case he is not a judge, but one of the parties. When these principles are followed under Uganda’s court processes, the rights of accused persons will therefore be upheld.

When one is accused of committing murder, among his sentences if proved guilty may be death. It is called the death penalty. Wouldn’t it be fair if a person accused of murder received a death sentence as his punishment? No because who says that because a man committed a sin at one time and murdered his fellow man, he is not worthy of pardon and a second chance at his life? Even if he be not worthy of pardon and is indeed deserving of equal measure of punishment, what good would it be to kill him also? Aren’t we aware that through this, we are under the danger of putting an innocent man to death under the presumption that he indeed committed the crime? I tell you that it is better to let a scoundrel live than to put a godly man to death. After all, you may observe that the world has plenty of scoundrels anyway and continues to have them but godly men are scarce. You may ask that is it not the law of the sword as established in Genesis 9:6 that “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed”? That a murderer is guilty of death and in justice is to be slain by the sword? Why is then so that in 1st Peter 2:13-14, the Bible says that “Be subject to every kind of human ordinance, whether it be the king as supreme, or to governors, as those who have been sent by him to punish the wicked and to praise the righteous”. On the basis of this, you may say that a murderer must therefore be murdered as well by the civil authorities since their role is to punish the wicked. Here is the answer: it is true that the law of the sword, which comes the civil authority has existed from the beginning of the world, and is to the effect that the wicked are supposed to be punished for their wicked deeds. However, even God was lenient in the use of the sword. When Cain slew Abel, he was in such great terror of being killed in turn that God even placed a special prohibition on it and suspended the sword for his sake, so that no one was to slay him. So should be the same in Uganda’s court processes.

In conclusion, regardless of how grave the alleged offence is presumed to be, an accused person is still considered innocent until proven guilty and therefore should not be ripped of his rights. Aren’t these rights inherent? Yes they are. Is the fact that one has been accused an assurance of their guilt? No, it is not. Why then should we disregard their rights? Why should we get in a position where an innocent man may have to get convicted because his rights were disregarded? A civil authority should strive not to get to this point. I shall repeat: I would rather a scoundrel be left to live than put an innocent man to death.

 

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