The Constitutional Court has ruled that the Army Court Martial has no powers to try civilians. According to the ruling delivered by Justice Kenneth Kakuru civilians can only be tried in the Court Martial if an individual volunteers to join the armed forces.
The court’s ruling follows a 2016 petition by the then Nakawa MP Michael Kabaziguruka challenging his trial in the General Court Martial. Kabaziguruka was accused of being found with firearms – a preserve of armed forces. It was said then that he intended to use them to overthrow a democratically elected government of Uganda.
“Emphasizing that the jurisdiction of the General Court Martial is limited to the provisions of the UPDF Act by necessary implication means that its jurisdiction does not extend to other Acts of parliament. The composition and the power of appointment of the Court Martial members by the UPDF High Command further emphasize its restrictive nature. Parliament intended that the jurisdiction of the General Court Martial extends only to the UPDF,” a ruling by Justice Kakuru reads in part.
Justice Kakuru delivered that the General Court Martial’s jurisdiction is only limited to trying service offences specified under the UPDC Act and only in respect of persons subject to military law.
“Military law under the UPDF Act must be construed to exclude laws that are the preserve of civil courts of judicature. Persons subject to military law must exclude all those who have not placed themselves under the jurisdiction of the UPDF Act.
A civilian can only become subject of military law if he or she is an accomplice in an offence committed by a person subject to military law as a principle offender,” read the ruling in part.
Justice Kakuru ordered that all civilians currently under Court Martial trial must now be released within 14 days of the decision.
For those that were sentenced by the same court, Kakuru said; “All those persons not subject to military law who are currently serving sentences imposed by the military courts contrary to the Constitution should have their case files transferred to the High Court Criminal Division for retrial or to be dealt with as that Court may direct.”