At least 260 accused persons have expressed willingness to participate in the March 2023 prison camp in Masindi which kicked off today.
The 260 include 200 inmates facing capital charges, 49 on petty offences and 11 Juvenile Offenders.
The Principal Judge, Dr Flavian Zeija, formally launched the Camp at Masindi Main Prison where he addressed Justice Actors, accused persons, students from Pepperdine University and Uganda Christian University.
The Principal Judge described Plea Bargaining as “a case backlog reduction intervention and strategy that the Judiciary developed and has been implementing since the year 2014.”
Plea Bargain is an agreement in a criminal case between the prosecution and the accused person where the accused agrees to plead guilty to the charge(s) in return for some concession from the prosecution in terms of a lenient punishment.
The Principal Judge further urged all participants to conform to the rules that govern the plea bargain process. “I appeal to all participants including the judicial officers, the prosecution, the defence team and the registered inmates to conform to the rules that govern the plea bargain process taking into consideration the interests of all parties involved including victims. Plea bargaining should not be used merely as a handshake,” observed the PJ.
On her part, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Justice Jane Frances Abodo emphasized the need for fairness by all justice actors including Judicial Officers as well as accused persons taking into account the interests of the victim.
Unlike in previous camps, the Masindi Camp, has offered an opportunity to juvenile offenders in conflict with the law to participate in the session, with probation officers taking the lead in this respect. At least eleven juveniles have expressed interest in the exercise. Justice Abodo further noted that both accused persons facing petty and capital offences can benefit from the initiative.
Justice Abodo observed thus, “plea bargain is an opportunity for those who know that they committed an offence have the opportunity to say sorry and reform.”
To the students, she Justice Abodo observed that that was a rare opportunity for them to get practical skills that are not taught in any classroom in the world.”
*Changing the remand convict ratio*
The representative of the Commissioner General of Prison, CP Asinjah Apollo Baker, Commissioner in Charge of Custodial Sentences observed that Plea Bargain is an intervention that has for the last few years ensured that convict ratio is higher than that of remand inmates. “We have a total of 74,484 inmates countrywide and majority are now convicts…that is what we want. With more interventions, this will continue and the decongestion in our prisons will continue to reduce, noted CP Asinjah.
To the accused persons who will not participate in the plea bargain session, the Principal Judge reassured them that trial sessions have been organized for them.
*Partners speak out*
Prof Danny DeWalt, the Vice President Pepperdine University commended the Principal Judge for his able leadership and vision to improve the plea bargaining program in Ugandan courts.
Mr Scott Leist, the East African Director, Pepperdine University commended Uganda’s story which has seen the criminal justice system conclude more than 30,000 cases over the years. He observed thus, Uganda’s success story has marketed us across Africa with many countries attempting to replicate the Ugandan story.
In attendance at the launch was Masindi Resident Judge, Justice Isah Serunkuma, Hoima Resident Judge, Justice Jesse Rugyema Byaruhanga, German Ambassador to Uganda, H.E Matthias Schauer, and Registrar High Court HW Rosemary Bareebe. Prof Andrew Khaukha, who manages the the Pepperdine-Criminal Justice Institutions relationship was also in attendance while the Judiciary Public Relations Officer, HW Jamson Karemani was the director of programmes.
A team from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, defence advocates and Judicial Officers from Masindi and Hoima High Court Circuits participated in the Camp.