The Chief Justice, Alfonse Chigamoy Owiny – Dollo has described Plea Bargaining as a good intervention that will help the Judiciary to shift from case backlog to caseload management.
“During the Annual Judges’ Conference, we agreed to a paradigm shift from case backlog to case load management and Plea Bargaining is a good intervention in facilitating the shift.”
He made these remarks while flagging off a week-long Plea Bargaining Sensitization and Prison Camp at Mbarara Main Prison. This was the first Plea Bargaining Camp he was presiding over as Chief Justice. At the Camp, 700 have been lined to be concluded within the week.
The Chief Justice reassured the stakeholders who included Judicial Officers, heads of diplomatic missions, representatives of criminal justice institutions and the inmates, that the Courts were ready to handle cases that may not necessarily be backlog but are ready for trial.
“Therefore, at this camp, we are ready to handle a case that was even committed yesterday provided the accused person is willing to plea bargain,” he said.
The CJ also cautioned the accused persons not enroll on the programme just for the sake of it unless they are certain that they are guilty of the offences they are accused of.
The Principal Judge, Dr Flavian Zeija, expressed his optimism that with the Camp on course, caseload will have significantly reduced. He added that he was “looking forward to a time where we shall be able to realize that 50 per cent of criminal matters are plea bargained. If we attain this goal, case backlog will be dealt with and delayed trials will be a thing of the past.”
On her part, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Justice Jane Frances Abodo, recognized the efforts of prosecutors to ensure that the Camp is a success. “Prosecutors have for the last three weeks been looking through files of those interested in doing Plea Bargaining and I encourage them to bargain fairly,” she said.
The call to utilize Plea Bargaining in the Criminal Justice System was reiterated by the Chief Registrar, HW Sarah Langa Siu, who noted that the fast access to justice initiative was a game-changer. “Plea Bargaining is one of our strategies in caseload management and if well-managed, it is cheap, faster and meets the ends of justice for both the victims and accused persons,” she said.
The Chief Registrar noted that the 2022 Camp would handle both capital and petty offences simultaneously. “…we have two Judges that will handle the capital cases and two magistrates to handle non-capital cases,” she said.
The Officer in Charge of Mbarara Main Prison, SP Innocent Draville, in his brief decried the congestion at the facility. He noted that while the Prison’s capacity is 324 inmates, it currently accommodates 2,064 inmates. It was observed that the South-Western prisons have a prison population of 8,329 inmates which is 400 per cent above their capacity.
Speaking on behalf of the co-organizers of the Camp, Pepperdine University, Mr Cameron Mc Collum commended the efforts of all criminal justice actors to gather on prison grounds to take justice services to accused persons. “I have never seen, what I see this week, remandees, Judges, Prosecutors, defence counsel, Police all gathered with a common goal to move justice forward. And this is not in the courtroom, or an office but in a prison courtyard,” he noted.
Mr Scott Lest also from Pepperdine University, went on to hand over to the Principal Judge, a portrait of him at Bushenyi prison in 2020 where he scored the winning goal that saw criminal justice actors win a friendly football match with inmates.
Plea bargaining is a negotiated agreement between the prosecution and an accused person to plead guilty to the charges in exchange for a more lenient sentence.
The Camp was witnessed by the Chairperson of JTI Governing Council, Justice Mike Chibita; the JTI Executive Director, Lady Justice Damalie N. Lwanga, Mbarara Resident Judges; Lady Justice Joyce Kavuma and Lady Justice Jane Kiggundu.
The Plea Bargaining focal Judge, Jane Okuo, the German Ambassador to Uganda, Mr Matthias Schauer, Dr Katja Kerschbaumer, representing the Head of Office of the Austrian Development Cooperation in Uganda, were in attendance.
The Permanent Secretary/Secretary to the Judiciary, Dr Pius Bigirimana, Judiciary Technical Advisor, Mr Andrew Khaukha, Commissioner of Prisons, Baker Asingya, equally took part.
The Camp has been organized by the Judiciary in partnership with the Pepperdine University.