The Principal Judge, Dr Flavian Zeija, has asked accused persons who opt for the Plea Bargain programme to take it seriously.
“When you enrol on this programme, we expect you to be serious. Do not ask for funny sentences,” said Dr Zeija earlier this week while opening a two-day Hands-on Plea Bargain Camp at the Tororo Main Prison.
“If you, for instance, murdered someone and you plead guilty, you cannot bargain for a sentence of one year’s imprisonment,” he said, adding that the programme was designed to ensure justice for both the victim and the accused person.
He said Sentencing Guidelines are followed, even in Plea Bargains. “When you go through a full trial and a judge convicts you, the sentence, according to the Sentencing Guidelines, starts at a minimum of 35 years in jail up to a death sentence. But when you plea bargain, the sentence starts at 35 years down words. But this doesn’t mean you should bargain for one year.”
Dr Justice Zeija was flanked on the Mbale Senior Resident Judge, Godfrey Namundi; the Director of Public Prosecutions, Justice Jane Frances Abodo; Mbale Ag. Deputy Registrar, James Mawanda Ereemye; Tororo Chief Magistrate, Jessica Chemeri; and Malaba Magistrate Grade One, Agnes Nabafu.
Others were the Prisons Director Correction Services, Samuel Akena; Regional Prisons Commander, ASP Ronald Godi; Judiciary Technical Advisor, Andrew Khaukha, Principal Communications Officer, Solomon Muyita; and the Tororo Prisons OC, Joseph Ocom.
Justice Abodo appeals to the inmates to always understand whenever the Prosecutions team bargains for certain sentences during the programme. “It is very important that we get the right sentences. We intend to target people who are ready to face justice, and not people who are simply tired of staying on remand,” she said.
She pledged to do everything within her means to ensure that justice is served to the people of Uganda. “I receive letters and review your case files, so do not hesitate to write to me through your Prisons OC if you feel that you are in prison over trumped-up charges. Once I am convinced that you are telling the truth, I shall drop your charges, and you’ll be out of prison the next day,” said Justice Abodo.
Justice Namundi said the upcountry teams are usually encouraged whenever the Principal Judge moves to the countryside for a physical interface. “This equally makes the inmates here feel that their matters are being prioritized,” he said.
He called on the Judiciary to fast-track the operationalization of the Tororo High Court Circuit, saying that it is quite overwhelming for him to handle over 500 criminal matters of a capital nature that are pending trial between Mbale and Tororo.
Dr Zeija announced that the Judiciary would secure funds to organize some High Court Criminal Sessions in Tororo soon. He, in the meantime, encouraged the inmates there to embrace Plea Bargain.
“Do not sit back and await a decision from a judge after a full trial. On a bad day, a judge can condemn you to 50 years in prison, but if you plea bargain, you have a chance to bargain on your sentence,” Dr Zeija urged the inmates.
By the end of Day One on Monday, at least 75 inmates had enrolled on the Plea Bargain programme.