UGANDA, Ndeeba | Real Muloodi News | Prosecutors in the Ndeeba Church demolition case have been given one last opportunity to call additional witnesses by Joan Aciro, the Chief Magistrate of the Anti-Corruption Court after the scheduled hearing for state witnesses flopped due to the absence of an attorney assigned to the case file.
The case has faced several adjournments due to the defence insisting on pre-trial disclosure, and the prosecution repeatedly stating that they were still investigating.
The case has been pending for three years and the defence accuses the state of abusing the court process by prolonging the case, to the detriment of the accused individual’s right to a speedy trial.
Failure by the prosecution to present additional witnesses will lead to the closure of their submission.
Background of the Case
The case in question was transferred from Makindye to the Anti-Corruption Court in Kampala on December 9, 2020, and involved several individuals including Dodoviko Mwanje, five police officers, a Gombolola Internal Security Officer (GISO), and two employees of the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA).
They were arrested in August of the previous year in connection with the demolition of St. Peter’s Church during a land dispute involving Mwanje, members of the Buganda Royal Family, and church leaders.
Court records indicate that Mwanje is accused of theft of church properties worth USh850 million, while the six police officers and the GISO are accused of abuse of power, corruption, conspiracy to commit a misdemeanour, and disobedience of lawful orders.
The Prosecution’s Case
The prosecution has presented four witnesses implicating the accused in the crimes, most of whom are from KCCA.
The defence accuses the prosecution of abusing the court process by delaying the case unnecessarily, thus depriving the accused of their right to a speedy trial.
The Court’s Observations
During the last court appearance, the Chief Magistrate of the Anti-Corruption Court noted that the delays in the Ndeeba church case have been caused primarily by the state, hindering the progress of the proceedings.
The magistrate pointed out that although the court had allotted a full day for hearing witness testimonies, the prosecution has over time opted to present only one witness per day.
Gloria Inzukulu, who represented the state, informed the court that the attorney previously assigned to the Ndeeba demolition church case file had been transferred and as a result, they requested an adjournment.
The lawyer mentioned that on January 31st, the case hearing was unsuccessful due to the news that the Chief State Attorney who was handling the case, Noah Kunya, had been transferred and the file was handed over to Adams Waiswa.
“On that day, while in court, Adams mentioned that he could not proceed with the hearing as he had just received the file on the same day,” he added. “As a result, the court adjourned the matter to a later date, which is now one and a half months later. However during this period, the file was left without an attorney, and prosecution didn’t communicate this to court, which is an abuse of court process and shouldn’t be ignored.”
The magistrate also observed that Kunya’s transfer had happened long before the scheduled hearing date, but a new attorney surprised the court by saying that he had just been given the file that day and didn’t know its contents.
“The same reason is being given today, and it is worse because there is no one in charge of the file, and we don’t know if there will be someone in charge of the file at the next hearing,” she noted.
Based on this background, the magistrate acknowledged the reason given by the prosecution for the adjournment but emphasised that at the next hearing of this case, the state must be ready to proceed, or they will be asked to close their case.
“Today they have given a valid reason for the adjournment to ensure that prosecution allocates the file and give whoever will have the file time to be brought to speed, but this is the last time adjournment net time they will have no other reason but to close,” the Chief magistrate ruled before adjourning the matter to May 19 2023, this year.
Defence Lawyers’ Position
Max Mutabingwa, one of the defence lawyers oppose the prosecution’s request for an adjournment, accusing them of using delaying tactics to prolong the hearing and eventual conclusion of the case.
“This is not fair at all, since they have already presented five witnesses so far. It seems they don’t have more witnesses or they are no longer enthusiastic to prosecute the matter. They should be forced to close their case,” Mutabingwa noted.
Another defence lawyer, Ambrose Tebyasa, also reminded the court that as the state continues to prolong the hearing process, it should keep in mind that the accused individuals have no source of income. Many of them are on interdiction, and even Dodoviko Mwanje’s business is affected due to the prolonged court process.
“The case is now three years old, and if the state was serious about it, it would have been disposed of already. I fully support my learned friend’s arguments, and I pray that the court forces the state to close their case,” he said.
The lawyers argue that the accused individuals have no source of income, and as such, the prolonged court process is affecting their businesses and livelihoods.
They insist that the state should be forced to close their case since they have already presented five witnesses so far, and it seems that they don’t have more witnesses or are no longer enthusiastic to prosecute the matter.
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