The recent arrest of Kampala Central Member of Parliament, Elias Lukwago, for ignoring court summons has brought to the fore the debate on the system of effecting arrest warrants. Lukwago was arrested at a Kampala petrol station while he was fueling his car, for ignoring the summons of the High Court in Masaka. The MP claimed he was the victim of political persecution because he alone was singled out for arrest in a long list of unexecuted arrest warrants.
Kabogoza Musoke, a former Grade I Magistrate, says that although Lukwago may have exaggerated issues, it is not rare for individual police officers to abuse the system. He says that during his service as a magistrate, he witnesses several instances when police officers failed to execute arrest warrants earlier in the week, choosing to wait until Friday evening to do their duty. As a result suspects, who could not easily receive bail, spend an entire weekend behind bars.
Musoke, who is now in private practice, says that unfortunately the issue is out of the hands of magistrates or judges. He says their role is only to issue the warrant and it is up to the police to execute it.
Arrest warrants are issued by a court of law on the request of the police or State prosecutor when a person involved in a case fails to appear in court without a sound reason. Arrest warrants can be issued for a suspect or for his or her sureties.
According to the Magistrates Court Act a warrant of arrest may be executed by any police officer or a local village chief. Where there is a recognizable offence a citizen can also execute an arrest.
However Police spokesperson Gabriel Tibayungwa says that contrary to popular view, many arrest warrants are carried out. He says they are not made public because they often involve people who are not in the public eye.
Kabogoza Musoke reasons that this loophole is caused by a discrepancy between the Police Act and the Constitution. He explains that while the Constitution requires an accused person to be produced in court within 48 hours, the Police Act empowers the police to hold a person for up to seven days in a cases where they have to be transported to the scene of the crime.
Those sections of the Police Act are currently being challenged in the Constitutional Court.