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Case backlog: DPP to free suspects in petty cases

By Farooq Kasule

Added 25th November 2016 11:04 AM

An eleven member committee was recently constituted by Chief Justice Bart Katureebe to work on reducing case backlog in the Courts

Case backlog: DPP to free suspects in petty cases

An eleven member committee was recently constituted by Chief Justice Bart Katureebe to work on reducing case backlog in the Courts

In a bid to reduce case backlog in the Courts of Judicature, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Mike Chibita has said that suspects of petty cases who have spent over two years in jail will be freed.

Chibita was responding to Justice Esther Kisakye's query about suspects of petty cases kept on remand without trial for more years than they could serve when convicted, which she said it is one of the causes of case backlog in courts.

This was during the meeting between members of the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP) and the case backlog committee headed by the Court of Appeal Judge Richard Buteera at the High Court in Kampala.

The eleven member committee was recently constituted by Chief Justice Bart Katureebe.

Chibita admitted that some of the suspects on petty cases like chicken thieves spend more years in jail than the maximum punishment on conviction under the Penal Code Act but they are planning to free them.

"We are planning to free all suspects on petty cases who have spent more than two years in jail. We believe this would reduce on case backlog and congestion in Prison," Chibita said.

During the meeting, Chibita also pointed out lack of enough criminal prosecutors and judicial officers as one of the causes of delays in handling criminal cases.

"As you all know, we have few prosecutors but cases come in faster than the rate at which they are disposed of. Every day over 100 cases are reported," he said.

He also said that of suspects released on bail more than 50% of them skip court and cannot be easily retrieved, asking the judges to revise it.

"In the past, it was not easy to give bail to suspects on serious charges like murder when committed to the High Court for trial but these days one can even be released on bail when the trial is starting tomorrow" Chibita noted.

"The judges seem to forget people on bail as they concentrate more on those still on remand," he added.

Deputy DPP Amos Ngolobe said that case backlog starts from the government which has continuously reduced the amount of money given to the Judiciary making it unable to recruit the required staff.

"We have a new strategy to recruit 100 lawyers. Judiciary is dying for prosecutors but we have no money" Ngolobe said.

He also said that they delay in handling cases because they purely rely on Police investigations to prosecute suspects without any body to check the quality of the investigations.

"If matters were investigated quickly, the case backlog would be low," he said.

Ngolobe also said that High Court criminal session should also be revised and criminal courts work regularly.

He pointed out misuse of the criminal process whereby lawyers request for unnecessary reference of matters to the Constitutional Court for interpretation.

Deputy DPP Charles Elem Ogwal said that even the Judiciary is not well supervised giving some judicial officers chance to work only when they wish hence leading to case backlog.

"Magistrates' Courts have wider jurisdictions with limited funds and some of them deem it fit to concentrate on their resident stations," Ogwal said.

Senior state attorney Josephine Namatovu pointed out the increased complexity of cases, as another cause of case backlog.

"In the past, five witnesses could be enough to close the case but today more witnesses are needed to prove a case which requires time and more funds," Namatovu said.

Namatovu proposed that even the witness money should be directly given to the DPP's office because they waste a lot of time in receipt yet they are the ones to summon them.

Principal state attorney Samalie Wakhooli pointed out that court cause lists are only created by the Judiciary and serve the DPP's office on short notice to appear in court to prosecute them, which she said that it is not enough for them to prepare for their cases.

"You need to summon witnesses within that time which is not enough for the 40 cases which are supposed to be handled in a criminal session" Wakhooli said.

Justice Buteera explained that they have less than one month to conduct research countrywide about how to reduce case backlog in all courts countrywide.

"We are going to meet different stake holders in the country over case backlog. We think if we put our heads together we can fight case backlog" Buteera said.

According to the 2016 report of the Judiciary national court case census, there are 114,809 pending cases in the Judiciary.

Magistrates' courts have 15,741 pending cases accounting for 13.71%, the High Court circuits and divisions have 36,313 pending cases, accounting for 31.63% of the total pending cases (114,809) in the Judiciary.

The Court of Appeal has 5,836 pending cases accounting for 5.08% and the Supreme Court has 96 pending cases accounting for 0.08% of the total pending cases (114,809) in the Judiciary. 

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