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When Britain assumed control of Uganda, the judicial
consisted of a number of local authorities, tribal chiefs,
kin group elders, who worked primarily to enforce local
law. Islamic law was also practiced in areas of northern
During the twentieth century, British jurisprudence was
imposed, spreading more quickly across the south than the
At independence the resulting legal system consisted of
Court, which heard cases involving murder, rape, treason,
other crimes punishable by death or life imprisonment; and
subordinate magistrates' courts, which tried cases for
punishable by shorter terms of imprisonment, fines, or
Magistrates' court decisions could be appealed to the High
All courts had the privilege of rendering "competent
whereby a person accused of one offense could also be
of a minor, related offense.
After independence the director of public prosecutions
appointed by the president, prosecuted criminal cases.
attorney general's direction, the DPP initiated and
criminal proceedings other than courts-martial. The DPP
could appoint a public prosecutor for a specific case. In
cases, a police official was the prosecutor, and the DPP
and commented on the trial proceedings.
The legal system virtually broke down during the 1970s,
part because Amin undermined the judicial system when it
attempted to oppose him. In March 1971, for example, when
granted the security forces the right to "search and
they implemented the decree to harass political opponents.
courts were then blocked from rendering verdicts against
agents through a second decree granting government
immunity from prosecution. By absolving soldiers and
any legal accountability, Amin unleashed a reign of terror
civilian population that lasted eight years.
The end of Amin's regime brought no significant
in the criminal justice system. In an effort to reassert
of law, in June 1984 the government prohibited the army
arresting civilians suspected of opposition to the
and it allowed prisoners, for the first time in over a
appeal to the government for their release from prison.
ignored the 1984 law, however, and continued to perpetrate
against the civilian population.
When Museveni became president in 1986, he pledged to
army's tyranny and reform the country's criminal justice
Judicial System, ch. 4). He succeeded in granting
autonomy to the courts, but the NRA also arrested several
thousand suspected opponents during counterinsurgency
in northern and eastern Uganda. In late 1988, the NRC
constitutional amendment giving the president the power to
declare any region of the country to be in a "state of
insurgency." Subsequent legislation allowed the government
establish separate courts in these areas, authorized the
to arrest insurgents, permitted magistrates to suspend the
of evidence to allow hearsay and uncorroborated evidence
courtroom, and shifted the burden of proof from the
Data as of December 1990