I have often watched the procedural errors by police officers when effecting arrest of suspects. The recent arrest of FDC Women League leader Ingrid Turinawe and her counterpart, Ms Hamida Nassimbwa, raised questions.
Nassimbwa was, in the course of her arrest, stripped, although television cameras rightly protected her dignity. Nassimbwa’s predicament and what other women protesters go through call for legal procedural order.
Women are unique and delicate human beings. They are mothers and a pride of our nation. Of course, they are not exempt from arrest but police must follow a prescribed procedure to safeguard their decency and dignity.
Article 23 of our Constitution guarantees the right to personal liberty. This right is buttressed by several substantive, procedural and remedial guarantees, including Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
However, such a right is not absolute. It is only capable of being suspended if authorised by law. An arrest by a police officer is one of the means by which the right to personal liberty can be suspended.
I appeal to the police legal department to teach officers the procedure. We have a civic duty under Article 4(b) of the Constitution to promote public awareness of our laws. The relevant laws that prescribe the procedure are the Constitution, the Magistrate Court Act (MCA) Cap 16, the Criminal Procedure Code Act (CPCA) Cap 116, the Police Act Cap 303. These must be read together with the Public Order Management Act and the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act 2012.
Section 2 of the CPCA lays down the procedure to be followed in carrying out an arrest. A police officer is authorised to actually touch the body of the person to be arrested.
Where the accused tries to resist or evade arrest, the officer is entitled to use all the means necessary to have the accused arrested, including the use of force. However, there is nothing in the Section that justifies greater use of force than is reasonable in the particular circumstances. From the news footage, Nassimbwa was subjected to excessive force than necessary.
Police officers are also empowered under Section 10 and 11 of the CPCA to arrest suspects without a warrant of arrest in any of the following circumstances:
If any person is suspected along reasonable ground for having committed a cognizable offence or any person who commits a breach of peace in his or her presence.
However, on the basis of proper construction, for the police officer to invoke his or her powers under these sections depends on the facts of each particular case. The persons that the framers of this provision envisaged are those involved in demonstrations, protests, and fights in the police officers presence.
Under Section 23(2) and Section 72 (3) of the MCA, a female person shall only be searched by a woman. A search may be extended to stripping a body of a suspect and if this is to be done, it must be a female officer and must be done with decency (Sec. 8 of CPCA). The section by no means permits a police officer to undress the suspect.
Section 27(9) of the Police Act requires that searches be carried out in a humane manner. Unnecessary damage or destruction should be avoided. Be mindful of Rule 24 of the Disciplinary Conduct of Police Officers, which is to the effect that a police officer is guilty of unlawful or unnecessary exercise of authority if he or she, without a good or sufficient cause, makes unlawful or unnecessary arrest.
Mr Ntambaazi is a civil society activist. firstname.lastname@example.org