Sir Newnham Worley P: read the following judgment of the court: The appellant was convicted in the Magistrate’s Court at Mubende of the offences of being in possession of a firearm without a licence and of corruption of a public officer and was sentenced to undergo three years’ imprisonment on the first charge and one year on the latter, the sentences to run concurrently. His appeal to the High Court of Uganda was dismissed and he has preferred a second appeal to this court. After hearing counsel on his behalf and for the Crown respondent we allowed the appeal, quashing the convictions and sentences on both counts and directing that the appellant be tried again before another magistrate on the same two charges.
The trial of the appellant was unsatisfactory in several respects. The weapon which formed the subject of the first charge is described as “a home-made gun” and no evidence was led to prove that it came within the definition of a firearm in s. 2 of the Firearms Ordinance No. 36 of 1955: see Gatheru v. R. (1), 21 E.A.C.A. 384. Further, the prosecution case was that, acting on the information received, a party of police discovered the home-made gun in question hidden in grass or bush on the edge of the appellant’s compound. The defence put forward was that it had been “planted there”. The prosecution case was supported by the evidence of a witness who testified that he had seen the gun exhibited in the hands of the appellant on three previous occasions. This witness was permitted to testify to a conversation between the appellant’s son and other people which he claimed to have overheard after the seizure of the gun, which was to the effect that the informer would have to be shot, and in answer to the court the witness also said that the appellant had had an illegal gun for about ten years, but the local people and chiefs were afraid to speak against him because he threatened and abused them. This evidence was clearly inadmissible. After the appellant had given evidence himself he stated that he wished to call some local people to testify that he did not possess a gun and also to bring the Muruka chief to speak to his good character. In view of the prosecution evidence of previous possession which the magistrate had already admitted, evidence tending to contradict prior possession was clearly relevant and admissible. Finally, the magistrate misdirected himself and did less than justice to the appellant when he assured him “that a witness as to his character would be of little avail to him”. Evidence of good character is always relevant and admissible, if the accused chooses to put his character in issue: a fortiori if the prosecution has been permitted to lead evidence tending to show that he is a man of bad character.
The wrongful admission and exclusion of evidence may well have led to a failure of justice and for this reason alone the convictions cannot stand. The appellant has already been in custody since his arrest in May of last year and we therefore make no order for his retention in custody or for him to give bail. Mr. Dickie for the Crown-respondent is satisfied that the appellant will appear in answer to a summons if the Crown decides to proceed with the retrial.
For the appellant:
BKM Kiwanuka, Kampala
For the respondent:
JJ Dickie (Crown Counsel, Uganda)
The Attorney-General, Uganda