Brief facts

This ruling arises from the decision of the Chief Magistrate of Arua, who by letter dated 17th August, 2018in its own invoked the provisions of section 48 of the Criminal Procedure Code Act. It empowers the High Court to call for and examine the record of any criminal proceedings before any magistrate’s court for the purpose of satisfying itself as to the correctness, legality or propriety of any findings, sentence or order recorded or passed, and as to the regularity of any proceedings of the magistrate’s court. The Chief Magistrate seeks to satisfy himself as to the regularity of the proceedings now pending before him in Criminal Case No. 52 of 2018, Uganda v. Hon. Kassiano Ezati Wadri and 31 others. The accused allegedly threw stones at the president’s motorcade with intent to do harm and consequently smashed the rear windscreen of the presidential car. Being a capital offense, the accused did not take plea but were remanded to Gulu government prison from where they were to appear before the Chief Magistrate of Gulu for mention of their case.

The Issue before Court,

The Chief Magistrate’s Court expressed doubts as to whether or not it has geographical jurisdiction over the accused persons in that case. Having considered that the particulars of the charge sheet indicate that the overt act for which they stand charged took place in Arua, a different magisterial area outside the territorial boundaries of the Chief Magistrate’s Court of Gulu. The Resident State Attorney argued that when an offense is committed partly in one place and partly in another, the case may be inquired or tried in one of those areas with jurisdiction. Furthermore, the Chief Magistrate acknowledged the fact that situation in Arua was tense and would likely disrupt the dispensation of justice. The defense counsel agreed with the submission of the Resident State Attorney and his interpretation on section 37 (b) and (d) of The Magistrates Courts Act.

Justice Mubiru’s Judgement

Although there were some procedural irregularities leading up to the Chief Magistrate’s court at Gulu taking cognizance of the case, they were not fatal to the proceedings and could be rectified by an order of this court ratifying the exercise of jurisdiction. The proceedings of the Chief Magistrate’s Court were accordingly validated. It was directed that the accused persons are to continue appearing regularly before that court for the mention of their case in accordance with the law. In the ruling, the magistrate went further to explain the concept of jurisdiction. “Jurisdiction” is an omnibus term which has several meanings depending on the context. It may be used when addressing the scope of affairs, a court may seek to regulate and control. It may also mean the kinds of issues a court could possibly have on its plate, i.e. the question whether a court may hear a case and decide a matter may thus be formulated as an inquiry into the jurisdiction of that court. Alternatively, it may mean the factual relationship between a court and a person or a thing. It also means and includes any authority conferred by the law upon the court to decide or adjudicate any dispute between the parties or pass judgment or order. A court cannot entertain a cause to which it has no jurisdiction to adjudicate upon. A court must have both jurisdiction and competence in order to be properly seized of a cause or matter (See: A.G of Lagos State v. Dosunmu (1989) 3 NWLR pt.111, pg. 552 S C). Further, in Owners of Motor Vessel Lillian “s” v. Caltex Oil Kenya Limited [1989] KLR 1, it was held that jurisdiction is meant to mean the authority which a court has to decide matters that are before it or take cognizance of matters presented in a formal way for its decision.

Given that the situation in Arua was tense, then section 41 (1) (a), or (d), or (e) of The Magistrates Courts Act was rightly invoked to transfer the file from Arua to Gulu and it was in the interest of justice. The accused were to continue appearing regularly before that court for the mention of their case in accordance with the law.