By Weswa Ronnie
The trial of Karamoja Affairs Minister Mary Gorreti Kitutu Kimono, who is accused of causing the loss of public property in the iron sheets scandal, has been halted by the Anti-Corruption Court in Kampala.
Lady Justice Jane Okuo Kajuga, presiding over the court on Wednesday, 7th February, has decided to suspend the trial until the Court of Appeal determines Kitutu’s appeal.
Kitutu had challenged the trial in 2023, shortly after being charged with diverting over 10,000 iron sheets from the Karamoja Community Empowerment Program. She claimed that she was subjected to torture while in state custody and argued that her trial should be halted on that basis.
Kitutu is facing charges alongside her brother Michael Naboya Kitutu and her Personal Assistant Joshua Abaho. However, in November 2023, Lady Justice Kajuga dismissed Kitutu’s application, stating that it lacked substantial evidence and contained falsehoods in her testimony.
The judge based her ruling on what she described as consistent statements from police officers that the minister was not subjected to any form of torture or coercion.
Kitutu through her lawyers led by Jude Byamukama filed an appeal against the dismissal of her application and also filed another seeking to stay proceedings in the High Court pending the determination of the appeal.
The Attorney General through an affidavit sworn by State Attorney, Ann Kiiza opposed the application for a stay of proceedings saying the Minister’s appeal had no likelihood of success and she had not demonstrated a prima facie case with the possibility of success and the likelihood of the appeal being rendered nugatory.
Kiiza said Kitutu’s appeal doesn’t have plausible or persuasive grounds to alter the ruling of the Court. She said no extraordinary circumstance has been illustrated to warrant the stay of criminal proceedings and the case against Kitutu is of public interest.
Kiiza insisted that the Constitution requires a fair, speedy, and public trial in criminal matters and Kitutu will be granted the same. The hearing of the case was to take place on the 12th, 14th, and 15th of February 2024.
The government contends that delaying the criminal trial will substantially affect the evidence in the form of exhibits available which are likely to be tampered with and that the witnesses were likely to be compromised.
The court also heard that the stay of proceedings pending the disposal of a civil appeal is not envisaged under the Human Enforcement Act after the decision has been rendered.
In her, ruling Justice Kajuga said that it is important to halt the trial awaiting the Court of Appeal decision such that they do not start it and then the Appellate Court rules otherwise.
“It will be a futile and costly exercise for the court to proceed with the trial, and for the prosecution to call its witnesses and proceed to lead evidence, and even for the accused to defend themselves, only for the Court of Appeal to decide otherwise.
Kitutu is worried about the delay of the trial but the Judge assured her that there will be no delay and that her case will be concluded in three months after the trial begins.
“It is my considered view that any fears of delay in the criminal trial that may be caused by a pending appeal are allayed by Section 16 (z) of the Human Rights Enforcement Act which requires the appellate court to prioritize the hearing and resolution of the appeal and conclude it within three months. There’s no likelihood of delay on the part of this court as the record of proceedings has already been typed and certified ready for the appellate court,” said Kajuga.
She explained that there would not be any miscarriage of justice that would be occasioned by a grant of the application.
Kitutu is facing charges arising from two separate criminal files that have been levied against her in less than a year.
The first one is where she was accused of diverting iron sheets in OPM. That trial was halted by the Court. In another case, the IGG accuses her of causing a 1.5 billion shillings financial loss. Kitutu maintains her innocence.