By Max Patrick Ocaido
PARLIAMENT. Members of Parliament on Thursday were in a state of confusion after they got stuck with the Law Revision (Penalties in Criminal Matters) Miscellaneous Amendment Bill, 2015 that intends to scrap mandatory death penalty.
Whereas the Bill intends to amend the Penal Code Act, the Anti-Terrorism Act, Uganda Peoples Defence Forces Act, 2005 and the Trial on Indictment Act to provide death penalty as a discretionary punishment for any murder conviction, the MPs on Thursday misfired the objective of the Bill, prompting Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah to defer debate until the mover of the Bill (Medard Ssegonna) harmonises and makes it clear to the Members. The Bill is yet to be tabled for its 2nd reading.
While in session, MPs made submissions in regards to scrapping or maintaining of death penalty until the mover of the Bill, Ssegonna rose on a procedural matter saying that the House including the Legal Committee report had diverted from the objective of the Bill.
“The Bill is not saying abolish [death penalty], it is talking about substitution of the sentence ‘mandatory’ with ‘discretionary’ death penalty. That means that instead of saying a person convicted of murder shall face death, the Bill wants it to read that the person convicted of murder is liable to suffer death,” Ssegonna said.
It is at that moment that MPs realized that they ‘debating’ what they did not understand. Even the Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs tasked to scrutinize the Bill was not spared by this confusion. The committee report recommended for scrapping of death penalty in contrary to the objectives of the Bill.
It should be remembered that this Bill was necessitated by the case of Attorney General vs. Susan Kigula where the latter challenged her death sentence ruling in the Supreme Court, resulting in suspension of mandatory death penalty as called for by Penal Code Act and other laws.
This confusion and misunderstanding prompted Oulanyah to give Ssegonna and his team one week to rectify their Bill and make it easy for the MPs to digest and debate.
“Yesterday (Wednesday), we paused this matter so that we can go and understand it better. There seems to be a little kind of understanding of what we are dealing with. From what the mover is saying, the Bill doesn’t seek to remove death penalty but rather impose it a discretionary penalty. So the court should examine the case and see if they can impose the death penalty. It looks like even the Committee is moving at a different level. If this is the basis of the debate, then we are dealing with a different thing,” Oulanyah said.
The death penalty in Uganda is imposed pursuant to Article 22 of the Constitution that states that, no person shall be deprived of life intentionally except in execution of a sentence passed in a fair trial by a court of competent jurisdiction in respect of a criminal offence under the laws of Uganda and the conviction and sentence have been confirmed by the highest appellate court.