By Namuddu Naava
About a month back, a friend was released from Kigo prison where he had been on remand. He narrated his ordeal to me and I offered to connect him to someone who could help. I shared his story with one of my foreign friends to help him enroll in a foreign University.
My foreign friend examined the police bond and court bail forms before doing online research about the charges written on the bond forms.
Based on the electronic sources the foreign friend relied on, he concluded that the police and court documents my friend had were fake because he doubted that neither the police nor court can issue a defective document. This cost my friend a chance to acquire foreign education, and worst of it, I lost the trust of my foreign friend.
I was compelled to examine the documents further to ascertain their authenticity. It was shocking to discover that the Sections of law quoted on the forms were either not in the Panel Code Act or misquoted.
Have the police and the courts been issuing bail forms with misquoted provisions of the law to unsuspecting members of the public?
I audited several forms issued by the two institutions and I was surprised by the lack of standards when processing these important documents. You cannot miss the glaring inconsistences that seem to originate from production issuance.
The Bail Bond form
On most of the bail bond form, Cap 122 is quoted as the provision of the law used to grant bail. I compared forms from Magistrates courts and High court and on all; the same provision of the law is quoted. I was shocked to find that not only was Cap 122 wrong, it also doesn’t exist in the Criminal Procedure Code.
During my research I stumbled upon an international research paper by Sarah Biecker and Klaus Schlichte titled; Policing Uganda, Policing the World that gives a good insight into what may be happening in the Uganda Police Force.
“The procedures to produce documents in a particular form and the files’ journeys within the station for official signatures show not only the state’s insignia, but also the high degree of ‘routinization’ of the Ugandan police (cf. Herzfeld 1993: 164).”
The author seems to suggest that attention is paid to routines and signing rather than the form content. Could it be that some of the sections like CAP 122 in the Indian CPC, that have some similarities in the subject matter (bond and security) are still quoted on some official court papers in Uganda?
While this is true on the surface, underneath there seems to be no need or even desire to use the set standards, like pre-drafted forms, therefore little attention is paid while producing these documents.
A suspect can be released on bond when investigations on a case are yet to be finalised with some conditions. This may not apply to cases, like terrorism.
Research indicates that most police stations issue out Release on Bond forms that quote the wrong law. This shows a high degree of laxity to adherence to standards. The issue of standardizing forms and enforcing the use of those very forms is yet to be addressed within the police force.
The correct law under which suspects should be released on bond is section 17(3) in the criminal procedure code. However, many of the forms issued indicate 30, others 17(13), which are all wrong.
Nearly each police station issues forms with different wording or format. It seems very little attention is paid while these forms are being issued out and sometimes the cases mentioned are wrongly stated or simply don’t exist in the penal code.
One can easily miss these glaring mistakes, however to any document processing specialist, these seemingly minute errors, are a true representation of fraud and can easily lead one to jail.
Most documents contain typos, that can’t be missed, others bare errors that are grammatical. A list of forms is available on the UPF website, presumably for reproduction by the stations countrywide.
But stations reproduce forms by re-typing and thus the many typos. Presumably, they can’t download these forms due to lack of internet connectivity. I have not seen any rule enforcing the use of these official forms.
Article 126(2)(c) of the constitution of Uganda, states that “substantive justice shall be administered without regard to technicalities.”
Much as the misquoted provision of law on the bond forms may not necessarily affect the outcome of the case, it brings to light the lack of seriousness in our courts and the police.
The police acknowledge that forgery of official documents is prevalent in the country but one wonders why it’s not doing enough to get to the bottom of the problem and save Ugandan students and visitors to foreign countries from being subjected to rigourous scrutiny than before.
Students have lost scholarships and traders lost business deals, all because they produced documents that were presumed fake. It is making it hard to produce a Ugandan document that is not notarized, without a requirement to notarize it being brought forward.
“The requirement to attach legally binding documents like affidavits is all too common,” said a friend of mine who lives in the United Kingdom. This increases the cost of application processing for entry into foreign learning institutions too.
Many people here seem to think that small errors on documents don’t matter. However, missing or an added character on a name, typos, none standardized formats, lack of contact details etc are enough to call any paper fraudulent.
Production of digitalized documents should be rolled out to all government institutions. Meanwhile, both the police and judiciary should update their online documents as well as make sure that their staff use them.
The author is an information scientist, with a BSc and MSC. in the field, with years of experience in document handling.