Kampala RCC condemns plea bargain for murder suspects

By Michael Odeng

The Judiciary has rolled out plea bargaining in High Court circuits countrywide including Kampala, Mbarara, Jinja and Mbale

The Resident City Commissioner (RCC) for Kampala has criticised the Judiciary's plea bargaining system, especially in murder cases, saying it is not justified.

Sarah Bananuka told Buganda Road Chief Magistrate, James Ereemye Mawanda, that the public is unhappy with the system and that it should be revised. The offence of murder attracts a maximum penalty of death upon conviction. 

"Plea bargaining is good for petty offences like simple robbery and theft among others, but the public asks how can one kill someone and that person is given a lesser sentence in the name of plea bargain?," she wondered. 

Plea bargain is a negotiated agreement between the prosecution and a criminal defendant where by the latter agrees to plead guilty to a particular charge, in return for some concession from the prosecutor for a lenient sentence. 

In May 2013, the programme was officially launched to mainly decongest prisons. 

So far, the Judiciary has rolled it out in High Court circuits countrywide including Kampala, Mbarara, Jinja and Mbale.

Bananuka expressed concern last week during a meeting between judicial officers and legal officers from government regulatory bodies held at Buganda Road Chief Magistrate's court. 

The meeting that featured officers from Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), National Water and Sewage Corporation, Uganda National Bureau of Statistics (UNBS), Uganda Communications Commission and Umeme, was organised to develop best practices to improve service delivery in the Standard, Utilities, and Wildlife court.

Bananuka also expressed concerns about minors being recruited into crime by adults, suggesting they should be sensitised right from primary school level about the consequences of crime.

She tasked the Government to create more rehabilitation centres for children who have committed crimes, observing that they are congested. 

In regard to plea bargaining, the Mawanda said it was a matter of the High Court. 

Mawanda however expressed concern about cases stalling at the utilities' court and asked prosecutors to adopt the case management system which includes plea bargaining, in order to reduce case backlog. 

"We expect to have such cases concluded as quickly as possible because they impact the economy of our country," Mawanda said. 

"Hearing of cases must take-off immediately after investigations are concluded so that we achieve the objectives of this court," he added. 

Mawanda noted that there were delays in prosecution of wildlife cases and called for a speedy trial. 

Caroline Agonzibwa, a legal officer with UNBS, said lack of witnesses, mismanagement of exhibits and the delay in sanctioning case files by the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), were some of the reasons leading to case backlog. 

"Exhibits are mishandled by the Police officers and the cases end up being dismissed in court for want of prosecution," she said.

Allan Rwakakoko, an official from Umeme, called upon UNBS to start testing metres, saying they are losing out due to theft, building of illegal lines and tempering with metres. 

An official from UWA who preferred anonymity, said suspects prefer fines to imprisonment.