Molly Katanga bail rejection bad for Judiciary

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Molly Katanga bail rejection bad for Judiciary
Molly Katanga is wheeled in court.

ANALYSIS | High Court judge Isaac Muwata has, again, kept Ms Molly Katanga in Luzira Prison. He denied her bail. Not that she is already guilty of the murder of her husband Henry Katanga, no - it is fast beginning to look like a judicial farce.

And a farce is indeed what it is.

In January, lawyers for Ms Katanga raised concerns over the harassment and intimidation of their client, citing the conduct of police officers who had forced themselves into a theatre where she was undergoing one of the about five surgeries she has had so far.

They also cited the bias in media reporting that painted the accused guilty while downplaying the gravity of her health condition.

There were reports that some invisible forces had moved several pens, batons, guns and 'etc' to ensure that Ms Katanga is hanged for the murder of her husband. The 'etc' could as well be the gavel, which would really be sad for the Judiciary.

But Judge Isaac Muwata does not help the conspiracies with a ruling that leaves nothing to imagination.

The presumption of innocence until proven guilty and the constitutional right to bail are two foundations of the justice system that Judge Isaac Muwata has religiously cited. Sadly, his citations are all but a mockery of the judicial process and a miscarriage of justice even before the trial starts.

Ms Katanga's guilt or no guilt is not something that her bail can prove. At her first bail hearing, Judge Isaac Muwata was clear that the suspect needed to have got a report from Luzira Prison medical doctor certifying that the national detention facility could not handle her medical condition.

Ms Katanga had applied for bail citing the need for medical attention, having obtained grave injuries on the scalp and head from an alleged domestic brawl the day her husband died.

On April 9, Judge Isaac Muwata rejected Ms Katanga's bail application on ground that her medical report in proof of 'exceptional circumstances' was not certified by medical officer of Uganda Prisons Service showing that her illness cannot be treated while in custody.

But on Tuesday, May 21, Judge Isaac Muwata shifted the goalpost and mocked the entire essence of his first bail application rejection.

“In the new application, it could be concluded that the applicant has failed to prove her condition could not be managed by prison authorities. There is no new ground of ailment raised in the application but rather a mere mention of it. This matter was considered in the previous application,” Judge Isaac Muwata said in his ruling.

The judge said at this stage, the case is ready for hearing  with evidence by the prosecution already disclosed to the defence lawyers, noting that releasing Mrs Katanga would jeopardise the case.

“Accordingly, the application cannot be granted.”

A lot has been said about the Judiciary and this farcical bail application ruling is one of those classic cases that will continue to drag the country's justice system for a while.

If there was still any lingering doubt that Ugandan courts grant bail purely on the discretion of the presiding magistrate or judge, it is all out of the window now.

Sadly, the farce at the High Court on Tuesday only helped to bang that gavel harder on the claims that invisible hands were moving different parties against the suspect. The subsequent result is that the same public that dragged Ms Katanga to the gallows even before the trial started could now start sympathising with her.

In shifting goalposts without batting an eyelid, Judge Isaac Muwata already punched holes in his own claims, including when he says releasing Ms Katanga would jeopardise the case because the trial is about to start.

There is no law that stipulates the time upon which grant of bail is illegal. But there is the Ugandan Judiciary, of course.

From the way the case was covered in the media, Ms Katanga is already guilty. Is there still anything else that can turn the case on its head just because the suspect was allowed to count her days to the start of the murder trial from home?

It is not enough to say release on bail will jeopardise a case, the court must state how so. Hopefully, Judge Isaac Muwata has the detailed ruling other than the script he read from in court.

Or is there another reason that Judge Isaac Muwata has not said in his ruling for not granting her bail? And if this were the case, a honourable court should be transparent enough to speak it out.

Otherwise, Judge Isaac Muwata's goal-shifting antic in this bail hearing paints the Judiciary's mirror black both front and back. Which judge can look themselves in a blackened mirror?

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