By Hillary Nsambu
KAMPALA - Principal Judge Yorokamu Bamwine has said that the judiciary is in the process of introducing plea bargain practice directions in criminal justice mainly to decongest prisons.
One of the objectives of the plea bargain directions is to enhance efficiency of the criminal justice system for the orderly, predictable, uniform, consistent and timely resolution of criminal matters.
Bamwine said that plea bargain sessions are intended to enable the accused and the prosecution, in consultation with the victim, to reach an amicable agreement on an appropriate punishment as they facilitate the reduction in case backlog and prison congestion.
“Inmates are yearning for justice and so are their relatives and friends,” he said.
“We must approach reforms with a purpose. The current initiative is mainly to decongest prisons and make it possible for suspects who want to plead guilty do so at the earliest opportunity.”
The principal law lord was on Friday opening a half-day consensus building workshop on the draft plea-bargain guidelines at Kabira Country Club in Kampala.
The meeting featured High Court judges, DPP Justice Mike Chibita, state attorneys, Chief Registrar Paul Wolimbwa Gadenya and deputy registrars.
Others included members of the legal fraternity in private practice and many officers of the Uganda Prisons Department.
However, Bamwine clarified that although the initiative is mainly on the inmates who would like to plead guilty, it did not mean that they had lost sight of the fact that even those who do not plead guilty deserve justice to be administered to them at the earliest opportunity; otherwise they would be accused of selective application of the law.
Principal Judge Yorokamu Bamwine (C), Director of Public Prosecutions Mike J Chibita (left) and director of Global Justice Program Jim Gash after a plea bargain seminar in Kampala in January 2014. PHOTO/Tony Rujuta
The plea bargain is one of the Judiciary’s strategies to improve performance, the principal judge underlines, adding that transformation of the justice system must be through judicial reform – and that they were the very people to champion that transformation.
“Together we can enable the accused and the prosecution in consultation with the victims to reach an amicable agreement on an appropriate sentence; facilitate reduction in case backlog and prison congestion and; enhance public confidence in the administration of justice.”
Commercial Court judge Henry Peter Adonyo was part of the team that visited California, USA, on a field study tour on the invitation Pepperdine University.
He explained that the system had helped quite a lot in decongesting the prisons and harmonising the victims and their offenders as well as educating the public in California.
Mbarara resident High Court judge Duncan Gaswaga and Jinja resident judge Godfrey Namundi had reported that their circuits had been overwhelmed by the large numbers of inmates that are over 800 who were committed to their courts and were awaiting trial.
It was the consensus of the participants that it is imperative and most appropriate to sensitize the inmates as well as their relatives on the benefits of the plea bargain process.
It is also important to involve the relatives of the victims’ relatives and the general public in an effort to harmonise the relationship among all people.
Practicing defence lawyers Robert Kafuko-Ntuuyo and Mark Bwengye suggested that in order to carry out effective plea bargain process, the defence counsel should be allowed two weeks to make meaningful consultations before they could participate in the plea bargain process.