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JLOS Holds National Plea-Bargaining Conference

The Principal judge, Hon. Justice Yorokamu Bamwine in a group photograph with a visiting delegation from the University of Pepperdine, California USA (PHOTO: JLOS) The Principal judge, Hon. Justice Yorokamu Bamwine in a group photograph with a visiting delegation from the University of Pepperdine, California USA (PHOTO: JLOS)

 

KAMPALA - The Justice Law and Order Sector led by the Judiciary on July 7th 2015 held the first ever National Plea Bargaining Conference organized in partnership with the University of Pepperdine, California, United States of America. The conference was opened by the Chief Justice of Uganda, the Hon. Bart M. Katurebe and was facilitated by highly experienced Judges, scholars, prosecutors and Defence lawyers from the United States who are experts in plea bargaining all facilitated under the leadership of Pepperdine University.  The JLOS relationship with the Pepperdine University started off with attachments and has now grown to cover a number of activities aimed at improving the administration of justice.  Some of these initiatives include plea-bargaining, mediation and sentencing guidelines, which have improved the quality of justice and stand to significantly and positively impact on the rule of law with its associated outcomes. The purpose of the national conference was to enable policy makers adapt plea bargaining concepts for use in Uganda's criminal justice system. Mock trials formed the biggest part of the conference and participants were able to learn first-hand how plea-bargaining works at the ground level.

The Ag JLOS Senior Technical Advisor, Ms Rachel Odoi-Musoke informed the conference in her opening remarks that she was confident this initiative would go a long way in reducing on the resources that the government was currently expending on the processing of committals for incarcerated persons today. She stated that JLOS was very happy with the expedience in which this project had been handled and promised the continued support of the sector to the judiciary. She acknowledged that this could not have been done without the support of the donors and encouraged their continued support to the sector.  

The Conference was graced by the representative of His Excellency the American Ambassador to Uganda Mr. Matthew Bunt, Political Officer in the US Embassy in Uganda.  The United States of America and Uganda share a strong relationship in many areas including the rule of law. He noted that one of the eminent problems that always stood out in the area of governance was the judicial backlog. He continued to state that this featured as a concern to the United States and questions like “how do we fix a problem of this magnitude’’ continued to feature a lot. He pointed out that the participants should take this opportunity to embrace plea-bargaining as it has the potential to reduce the backlog, render swift justice and expedite hearing of cases. He noted that there was a big task ahead for the judiciary that required a plan, dedication and commitment.
Mr. Bunt also emphasized that the facilitators of the conference from Pepperdine University were experts in their field and had achieved a degree of excellence in this area of the law. He encouraged the participants to take this opportunity to adopt best practices that could go a long way in dealing with the big issue of judicial backlog that the judiciary in Uganda is currently struggling with.

Currently, the number of accused persons on remand outweighs the convicts. More than 55% of the inmates are on remand against the international average of 45%. Prison congestion stands at 167% with some prisons holding up to 500% of their holding capacity. The average lead times for capital offenders stands at 10.5 months while the lead time for petty offenders stands at two months. These grim statistics show a highly stressed justice system! The congestion in prison, which stands at 161%, greatly compromises the health, sanitation, accommodation, and security for both the prison officers and the inmates themselves.

During the conference, participants were informed that the introduction of plea bargaining which has improved the penal justice in America had the potential of helping the criminal justice system in Uganda to achieve efficiency in the Criminal Justice System by; promoting orderly and timely management of trials; facilitating amicable settlements in criminal matters; mitigating case backlog, ; reducing the workload on prison officials; reducing prison congestion, and ; quick relief from the anxiety of criminal prosecution, as the accused will be encouraged to own up criminal responsibility.  Plea-bargaining also promotes victim participation in the adjudication process.

The Principal Judge in his remarks reported on the achievements of the plea bargaining project drawn from the pilot Programme that has been launched in Ten (10) High Court Circuits since June 2014. Under the pilot Programme, more than 1000 cases were disposed of at one fifth of the cost (about 350,000 compared to 1,000,000 shillings) of completing one criminal case through the adversarial system. 

The Chief justice cautioned the participants not to take for granted the early successes of plea-bargaining. Just like any new innovation or reform, the CJ cautioned that “there will be need for continuous advocacy programs so that plea bargain agreements are not misunderstood or abused by the key stakeholders”. He called upon the Justice Law and Order Sector with the active support of the Principal Judge, to undertake a robust advocacy program using print and electronic media and, if possible, translate the information in the local languages “so that our people on whose behalf we exercise our justice appreciate the value and benefits of plea bargaining".

 

By Lucy Ladira and Edgar Kuhimbisa / Published: July 10 2015