Kisanga, J.A., delivered the following considered judgment of the court:
C The appellant was convicted by the Economic Crimes Court (Munuo J (Mrs)) for cattle theft contrary to s 56(1) and s 59(2) of the Economic and Organized Crime Control Act 13 of 1984, read together with para 12(1) of the First Schedule to that Act, and was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment. He has now appealed. In this Court and also in the Court below he was D unrepresented. Mrs Sumari, learned State Attorney, appeared before us for the respondent Republic.
Mrs Sumari did not seek to support appellant's conviction. She submitted that the conviction was bad E because the appellant was given no opportunity to answer the charge or to defend himself to it. With respect to the learned State Attorney, we entirely agree.
The entire proceedings were conducted in the complete absence of the appellant from the court F room. The case was called on for hearing on two different dates. The appellant was absent on both occasions. On the second occasion the Court, after endorsing on the file that the accused was absent and at large, proceeded to conduct what was really a mockery of a trial by reading out the charges and recording pleas thereto. The record reads as follows:
G `Charge read over in absentia and plea likewise in the following words:
1st Count: Not true
2nd Count: Not true
H Entered as a plea of Not Guilty in the absence of the accused persons' (sic).
The so called trial proceeded to conclusion and the appellant was convicted on the first count.
One of the fundamental principles of our criminal justice is that at the beginning of a criminal trial the I accused must be arraigned. That is to say the Court has to put the charge or charges to him
and require him to plead thereto. In this case the appellant was charged with an economic offence, A and the procedure for such offence is provided for under the Economic and Organized Crime Control Act 13 of 1984. Upon a glance through that Act it seems that the Act makes no provision for arraignment of the accused before the Economic Court. However, s 28 of the Act provides in effect B that where the Act is silent, the procedure under the Criminal Procedure Act shall apply.
That section says:
`28 Except as is provided in this part to the contrary, the procedure for arraignment and for the hearing and C determination of cases under this Act shall be in accordance with the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code.'
This then brings us to s 228 of the Criminal Procedure Act which makes provision for arraignment of an accused person. The relevant parts of that section provide as follows: D
`228(1) The substances of the charge shall be stated to the accused person by the Court and he shall be asked whether he admits or denies the truth of the charge. E
(3) If the accused person does not admit the truth of the charge the Court shall proceed to hear the case as hereinafter provided - ' F
Then s 33 of the Economic and Organized Crime Control Act takes over from there and provides inter alia, that:
`33 Where the accused person does not admit the truth of the information . . . the Court shall enter a plea of not guilty G to that information. . . .'
Our construction of these provisions of the law is that the requirement of arraignment of an accused person as embodied in those provisions is mandatory and non-compliance therewith renders the Hproceedings a nullity. The rationale for this view is not difficult to find; it is that the accused must know the offence with which he is charged and for which he is being tried. A person should not be put in jeopardy of a conviction when he is unaware of the source of the jeopardy itself. The necessary corollary that follows from this is that the accused must be physically present and the I charge must be put
A to him in person. Otherwise the whole principle of arraignment and the vital purpose for which it is intended are rendered meaningless.
Now, the crucial question which arises is this: In the present case was the accused arraigned? Since he was absent at the material time, to whom did the Court read out the charges? And who B gave the answers thereto which constituted the pleas of `Not Guilty' as recorded by the Court? Certainly the accused cannot be said to have been arraigned. As amply demonstrated already, such non-compliance with the requirement to arraign the accused rendered the purported trial a nullity.
C Mrs Sumari was also at pains to point out that the learned Trial Judge failed to comply with the provisions of s 226(2) of the Criminal Procedure Act which provides that:
`226(2) If the Court convicts the accused person in his absence it may set aside such conviction, upon being D satisfied that his absence was from causes over which he had no control, and that he had a probable defence on the merit.'
Learned Counsel was of the view that upon the appellant's arrest but before his committal to prison, E it was open to the learned Trial Judge to proceed as provided for in ss (2) above quoted, but she did not. We think differently. Our view is that that subsection does not apply to a case like this where the trial was a nullity ab initio. For the subsection envisages that if the Court is satisfied that the F accuse'ds absence was justified, it may allow him to advance his defence on the merits of the case, and on the basis of such evidence, and that of the Prosecution previously recorded, proceed to give judgment. In other words the subsection empowers the Judge to re-open the trial and continue the proceedings to a judgment. However, that would be untenable here where there was really no trial at G all from the very beginning. There was nothing for the Judge to reopen and continue.
Mrs Sumari referred us to s 37(4)(a) of the Economic and Organized Crime Control Act 1984 as amended by Act 12 of 1987 which provides for the trial to proceed in the absence of an accused H person. That subsection says:
`37(4)(a) Where a person admitted to bail absconds or fails to appear before the Court before which he is required I to appear on a date fixed and conceals himself so that a warrant of arrest may not be executed -
(a) the trial in respect of that person before such court shall
continue irrespective of the stage of the trial when the accused absconds, after sufficient efforts have been A made to trace him and compel his attendance;'
We are satisfied that this provision is equally inapplicable to the present case. The learned Trial Judge cannot properly have invoked it. First, the accused never jumped bail, and indeed he was B never brought before the Court at any time. Second, since the trial `shall continue' upon certain contingencies happening or being fulfilled, this means that the provision applies only where the trial has already started. In the instant case however the trial cannot have started where the accused was never arraigned. C
Having found the purported trial to be a nullity, the question now is what is the next step? Mrs Sumari submitted that this is a fit case for the Court to order a re-trial, a discretion which is conferred on the Court by rule 36 of the Court of Appeal Rules. Her reasons for that view are twofold. First the victim D of the theft is yet to recover four of his stolen forty head of cattle. And secondly the appellant has so far served only about two years out of the prison term of seven years awarded to him. We have given thought to this submission, and we find no good reason for disagreeing. In acceding to it we also take E into account that cattle theft is a serious offence which sometimes is the source of inter-community clashes leading to tragic consequences. We think that suspects of such offences should not be let off lightly.
In the result the appeal is allowed. The purported proceedings in the High Court are set aside, with an F order that the appellant be tried before another judge. As the appellant has been in prison for about two years, it is further directed that he be tried as soon as is practicable.