New Vision (Kampala)

Uganda: Legislature Told to Reform Unconstitutional Laws

The Judiciary has asked Parliament to reform the laws that have been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court to remove the lingering confusion.

The Chief Justice of Uganda, Benjamin Odoki identified some of the laws ruled unconstitutional but still confusing the enforcers as the life sentence. He noted the Supreme Court ruled that life sentence must be an offender's natural life, yet the Prisons Act puts life at 20 years, which they use to calculate remission.

The other laws that were ruled unconstitutional were the laws on adultery, succession and inheritance, which according to the court ruling treated men and women unequally.

"The Parliament has to come in and make legislative reforms to back the judiciary or it will make the judiciary incoherent..." Odoki said. The Chief Justice said this while receiving the newly developed guidelines to sentencing which are intended to level the ground in deciding punishments for offenders.

The sentencing guidelines were developed by a Task Force appointed by the Chief Justice after intensive research following public outcry at the sentences passed on the same offences, under similar conditions though the culprits are different.

The Task Force drawn from the stakeholders in the Justice delivery was constituted on August 6, 2012. It was chaired by the Principal Judge, Yorokamu Bamwine. A Sentencing Reform Bill has also been made for Parliament to pass and give the guidelines a legal backing.

"These guidelines shall ameliorate the current challenges that the courts are grappling with while sentencing," Justice Odoki said.

He enumerated the challenges as the disparities in sentences by different judges and magistrates for the same offence committed in similar circumstances, appropriate sentencing in capital cases following the decision that the death sentence is not mandatory.

Other challenges, Odoki noted are on sentencing juvenile offenders, reliance on custodial sentences and reluctance to impose fines, community service and other non-custodial sentences. He said that there was also a challenge in sentencing the cases that were referred back to the High Court after the death sentence was made not mandatory.

He clarified that the sentencing guidelines are not sentencing rules and will not override discretion of a judicial officer.

"They should not direct but rather guide the judicial officer to arrive at a fair and justice sentence which is consistent with that being passed by other judicial officers...," Odoki said. "In addition to this they promote uniformity in approach when sentencing in offences of a similar nature committed under similar circumstances.

Justice Bamwine said that in the guidelines, the Task Force tried to capture important things like how to punish the offender and how to protect the public. It also focused on how to reform and change the offender's behaviour and how to reduce chances of future criminality by the offender.

"The conviction may be proper but if the sentence is laughable or amounts to a travesty of justice the whole process stands to be faulted," Justice Bamwine said.

"We think that when the guidelines are fine tuned in due course by a more permanent body, the sentencing Council, Uganda will have a robust sentencing policy admirable in the region," he added.

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