The Judiciary has banned courts from confiscating original copies of national identity cards belonging to persons standing surety for criminal suspects as a precondition for granting bail, urging Judges to differentiate between the sureties and accused persons.
Justice Flavian Zeija, the principal Judge and head of the High court made the announcement in a Circular on Wednesday and directed courts presently holding such IDs to release them (retaining only photocopies) and explore options to obtain alternative security and documentation aimed at ensuring suspects attend trial when released from custody on bail.
‘ Since the law does not require deposit of National Identification cards of sureties with Court as a condition for grant of bail, this circular serves to forbid judicial officers from continuing with the practice… it also serves to direct all courts that are holding original national identification cards of sureties to review such orders in favour of [their] release…’ Justice Flavian Zeija said.
The move comes against a backdrop of complaints by court users, according to Justice Zeija, and is informed by the fact that criminal cases tend to drag on for a month and more before completion yet like all Ugandans, sureties are entitled to use their IDs to pursue personal endeavours.
“ Most criminal cases take over a month to be disposed of yet National Identification cards are required by all Ugandans to undertake day to day business. The attendant challenge is that sureties are unable to pursue their rights and undertake their obligations as citizens of this country for as long as their original identity cards are retained by a Court.” the Principal Judge said.
Bail is a constitutional imperative in form of a permission granted by a Court that allows a person accused of a crime to attend their trial out of custody. In Uganda, bail is principally governed by Article 28 of the Constitution which provides for the presumption of innocence – the idea that an accused person is to be presumed innocent until they plead guilty or are proven so.
Typically, courts in Uganda will consider circumstances like seriousness of the alleged crime, grave illness, a fixed place of residence, infancy or advanced age, substantiality of sureties, among others – before they can grant an accused person bail.