THE Police have accumulated a backlog of over 400,000 cases in the last seven years, according to Police statistics. A total of 418,000 complaints registered since 2000 were still under investigations by the end of 2007.
These include not only minor crimes like theft, burglary, arson, counterfeiting, forgeries, issuing false cheques, aggravated assaults and abuse of office, but also serious offences like rape, robbery and murder.
More than 70,000 suspected murderers, rapists and robbers and a high chance of getting off scot-free as a result of delayed investigations or lack of sufficient evidence.
When the Police fail to gather enough evidence, it becomes difficult or impossible for the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to sanction the file for prosecution. The DPP then winds up the case and the suspect is released.
Not only is the accumulative total increasing, the backlog is also rising every year. Out of 68,000 cases reported to the Police in 2000, 17,000 â€“ or one quarter â€“ were still under inquiry by the close of that year.
However, out of 231,000 cases reported in 2007, a total of 107,000 â€“ or almost half â€“ were still pending investigations by the close of the year.
â€œWhen a case has not been concluded within reasonable time, it loses urgency as fresh cases are coming in, and it is likely to remain unresolved,â€ said a senior Police officer.
The Police believe the actual number of cases pending investigation might be lower because many are concluded without their knowledge.
Charles Asaba, the officer in charge of Police records, says it is difficult to update the statistics since they are compiled manually. The Police, he adds, are in the process of acquiring a computer software to keep regular updates of cases.
In some cases, when the complainants feel the Police are not making any headway, the parties opt for an out-of-court settlement which would not be reflected in the statistics.
Nevertheless, the case backlog, which increases every year, is a serious concern to the Government, human rights groups and lawyers.
Justice delayed is justice denied, says Margaret Ssekaggya, chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission.
She blames the backlog on lack of resources and personnel to deal with a rapidly growing population which is resorting to increasingly more sophisticated ways of committing crime.
â€œThe Government should commit enough funds, facilitate all the Police departments, recruit more personnel, especially investigators and build their capacity to solve the backlog problem,â€ Ssekaggya suggests.
City lawyer Godfrey Rwarinda says delays in investigations make their clients suspect that lawyers are conniving with the Police to â€œeatâ€ their money and kill the cases.
â€œIt impedes our role in delivering justice,â€ he comments. â€œWhen the evidence is insufficient, the DPP, as a technical person, will send the file back to the Police. If they fail to produce more evidence, he closes the case, resulting in the release of suspects who may actually have a case to answer.â€
He notes that Police officers sometimes gather information which is not relevant to the case. In addition, he observes, the more the investigations delay, the higher the chances that the evidence will get distorted or disappear.
â€œThis is why complainants lose trust in the lawyers and the entire judicial system and why people sometimes resort to mob justice.â€
The shortfall in detectives is one of the major reasons for the backlog, the Police argue.
Uganda currently has 2,800 detectives. Considering the number of crimes reported last year alone, that means each detective had to handle 83 cases.
Since the ideal workload is 30 cases per detective, per year, Uganda would need almost 8,000 detectives to handle all the cases reported in 2007, three times more than it has now.
Lack of detectives is not the only problem the Police are faced with. Other obstacles are lack of training, specialisation and appropriate technology.
Until recently, Uganda did not have the technology to carry out DNA tests or analyse fingerprints. The entire country has only one ballistics expert and three handwriting experts.
â€œIt is disturbing to note that there is only one ballistics expert in the country and he does not belong to the Police,â€ Police boss Maj. Gen. Kale Kayihura said recently while breaking the ground for the construction of the first Police forensic laboratory.
â€œWhen it comes to handwriting experts, there are only three, two of whom are in the Government Analytical Laboratory and only one is in the Police.â€
Even the cases that make it to court most of the time donâ€™t lead to a conviction. Of the 46,000 cases taken to court last year, only 12,000, or about one quarter, were finalised with convictions, according to the 2007 crime report.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Richard Buteera, blames the lack of success in winning cases partly on the Policeâ€™s failure to conduct proper investigations.
â€œSometimes prosecution loses cases just because investigations were not thoroughly conducted,â€ he told a group of visiting state attorneys from Tanzania on Thursday.
He revealed that he had proposed to the judiciary to handle old cases first so as to reduce the backlog.
â€œNormally you find that new, high profile cases are given precedence over the old ones and then you wonder where justice is.â€
As crime syndicates are becoming better organised, having access to more sophisticated information and communication systems and weapons than those who investigate them, security for detectives and prosecutors becomes another challenge.
The lack of capacity to properly investigate cases does not only help hard-core criminals get off the hook, it also causes unjust suffering to people wrongly suspected of having committed a crime, according to MP Rose Namayanja.
â€œAs a result of the delayed investigations, many people spend a lot of time on remand waiting for investigations to be completed,â€ Namayanja, who is a member of the legal and parliamentary affairs committee, told Saturday Vision.
â€œThose who are wrongly suspected stay unnecessarily long behind bars. That is breaking the law.â€
Police stuck with 400,000 case pile