Legal experts explain why State Minister for Karamoja Agnes Nandutu was committed to High Court unlike other suspects before her

By Our Court Reporters

The general public has been buzzing with speculation following the committal of State Minister for Karamoja Affairs, Ms Agnes Nandutu to the High Court for trial.

Many had expected the  Anti-Corruption  Magistrate Court in Kololo, to hear Nandutu’s bail application yesterday just like her colleagues before her , Minister Kitutu and Lugolobi .

But to the surprise of many Nandutu was instead committed to the High Court for trial on the recommendation of the  Director of Public Prosecution (DPP).

This after Nandutu was  charged with dealing with suspect property contrary to section 21A (1) of the Anti-Corruption Act,2009 (As Amended). has since established that under section 169 of the Magistrate Court Act , (MCA) the Director of Public Prosecutions has the powers and mandate to determine the offences to be committed to the High Court for trial.

Subject to section 168 of the MCA for avoidance of doubt , provides that “it shall be within the discretion of the Director of Public Prosecutions   to determine which offences are to be proceeded with under  section 168 for trial before the High court or to be tried by a magistrate’s court; and trial by the High Court of an offence committed to that court under section 168 shall not be refused merely on the ground that a magistrate’s court has jurisdiction to try  the offence.”

Legal experts have explained that once the prosecution in Nandutu’s case told court that investigations were complete and she should be committed to the High Court for trial, the magistrates “hands were tied.”

“The magistrate according committed Nandutu to the High Court and the legal doctrine of functus officio came into play,” a criminal law legal expert explained .

Latin maxim and or legal principle of functus officio simply means that once a judicial official makes a decision then he has no more powers to re-examine such a decision .

But why did the DPP make the decision to commit Nandutu to the High Court  

Well placed sources have told the publication that after perusing Nandutu ‘s file , the DPP came to the conclusion that her case based on the findings and facts on the ground was very serious in nature.

According to the investigators , the aggravating factors in Nandutu’s case if that she took 2,000 iron sheets yes, 2,000 mabaati to her farm. Of those 1,400 were recovered but 600 are yet to be accounted for.

“These items were meant for the vulnerable people in Karamoja and they ended up at a minister ‘s farm. And this is the Minister who was in charge of the Karamoja docket. That’s why the DPP considered this to be a serious criminal to be tried by the  High Court ,” a well placed source explained.

But other legal experts have still questioned the DPP’s wisdom and noted that this provision of the law can be abused for political purposes .

“ When you have accused persons charged over the same case with similar offences and facts, its not legally prudent to charge some in a lower court and others in a High Court . This causes suspicion as you can clearly see in the case of Nandutu . I’m sure the Uganda Law society will take up this matter for further scrutiny and discussion ,” a senior criminal lawyer who preferred not to be named stated.

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