The Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Jacob Oulanyah, has emphasized the need to protect court witnesses before, during and after the adjudication of cases.
Oulanyah, who was speaking during a workshop organized for MPs on the Committees on Human Rights and Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, said the law on witness protection should have been in place years back.
“Any criminal lawyer would know that a very rich person or the state would influence the direction the witness takes,” he said adding that, “If the witnesses are left on their own when they come to testify they will turn against you, because they feel if they testify, their lives would be in danger.”
The workshop on the draft Witness Protection Bill, 2015 was organized by the Uganda Law Reform Commission and was held at the Parliament Building on Friday 27 April 2018.
The workshop was meant to justify the need for legislation on witness protection in Uganda; create awareness of the existence and provisions of the draft Bill and advocate for its tabling before Parliament.
The Witness Protection Bill, 2015 seeks to establish a Witness Protection Agency and a national Witness Protection Programme; to provide protection and safety of a witness in proceedings; to facilitate witnesses in the witness protection programme to testify and give evidence during proceedings.
The Witness Protection Agency is meant to provide the framework and procedures for giving special protection on behalf of the State to persons in possession of important information and who are facing potential risk or intimidation due to their cooperation with prosecution and other enforcement agencies.
Oulanyah asked the House Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs to urgently consider the Witness Protection Bill when it is eventually tabled for the First Reading.
“I challenge the Committee to see to it that this Bill comes back to Parliament in the stipulated 45 days. Break the record, and do not seek any time extensions. Compress all the processes to fit within this time,” said Oulanyah.
Rule 128 (2) of the Parliament Rules of Procedure provides that a Committee to which a Bill is referred after its first reading, “shall examine the Bill in detail and make all such inquiries in relation to it as the Committee considers expedient or necessary and report to the House within 45 days from the date the Bill is referred to the Committee.”
Despite this Rule, Committees have been known to keep bills taking longer than the stipulated time, which is usually with leave of the House.
The Chairperson of the Uganda Law Reform Commission, Mrs. Vastina Rukimirana, said that there was need to protect witnesses and hence the need for creating awareness about the law.
“Witnesses are the most important people in a case and need protection, hence the need for this law,” she said.
The Ag. Commissioner ULRC, Jeroline Akubu, said that this Bill intends to provide a holistic protection of crucial witnesses in a case who face a threat or risk. She said that an agency will be formed to handle the protection of the witnesses so as to restore confidence in the judicial system.