Kampala, 20th/October/2014; The High Court of Uganda at Kampala has ordered the Buganda Road Chief Magistrate, Lilian Buchyana to allow journalists and the public to report and attend the trial of Ronald Poteri who is accused of leaking secret audio recordings between the Inspector General of Police Maj. Gen Kale Kayihura and some ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party youths.
Lady Justice Lydia Mugambe, said that the trial Magistrate acted unreasonably and unfairly in the process of making her ruling, adding that she committed an illegality, was irrational and her decision is clothed in procedural impropriety.
On 25th June 2014, the Buganda Road Chief Magistrate Lillian Buchyana ordered for an in-camera trial upon an application made by the prosecution led by Anguzu Lino to exclude journalists and the public from attending the trial of Poteri citing national security. Journalists, through their umbrella body, Uganda Court Reporters’ Association (UCRA) challenged the Magistrate’s order through their lawyers Catherine Anite of HRNJ-Uganda, Isaac Kimaze Ssemakadde of Centre for Legal Aid, and Kibirango Peter who argued that Buchyana’s decision was illegal, irrational and improper. They further argued that Poteri’s trial was a case of public interest and that the prosecution had failed to adduce evidence to show how a public trial would jeopardize national security.
“I hereby quash the ruling/decision of the Learned Trial Magistrate of 25 June 2014, ordering in-camera proceedings in Criminal Case No. 303 of 2014 against Poteri Ronald”, read Mugambe’s Judgment in part adding that “any proceedings carried out under this ruling or order are also accordingly quashed”.
She noted that by virtue of Article 41 and 43, the trial magistrate was supposed to evaluate whether the request sought by the State was sufficient in a free and democratic society. “Moreover by giving such a blanket cover of in-camera proceedings for the entire trial, the Trial Magistrate sucked in the Defence case proceedings. Such in-camera proceedings for the Defence case should have been only at the request of the Defence if they felt it necessary.
“This is a landmark decision for the media in Uganda. As the eyes and ears for the public, journalists require unfettered access to courts of law so as to report on the process of dispensing justice. This is only possible if they are present in court. Closed justice is untenable in a democratic society unless exceptional circumstances are proved”, Said Robert Ssempala,HRNJ National Coordinator.