13 November 2017

Uganda: How Prosecutors' Strike Is Affecting Judiciary

Photo: The Observer
Doctors at Mulago hospital.

Kampala — State agencies are stuck with thousands of criminal case files as the ongoing strike by state prosecutors yesterday marked one month last week.

Senior officials said the industrial action by prosecutors from Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) paralysed most court trials countrywide leading to clogging of the criminal justice system.

Mr Frank Baine, the Uganda Prisons Service spokesperson, said they are currently stuck with prisoners who had already processed their production warrants to appear before courts, others had paid their bail money but all pending the input from prosecution.

He added that they keep ferrying prisoners to courts due to lack of an official communication about the strike. According to Mr Baine, at least 500 of 1500 prisoners taken to court countrywide are released daily by courts "but for the last one month, we have only been releasing about 100 prisoners."

He said those released include convicts who have completed their sentences, civil prisoners and who were awaiting determination by courts.

Mr Baine revealed that because of the release, the population of prisoners has dropped from 56,000 to 54,000 in the last one month.

"The biggest challenge is when courts resume normally, we expect a massive inflow of inmates because there are many people whose case files await to be sanctioned for them to appear before courts," Mr Baine said.

Mr Asan Kasinye, the Police spokesperson described the situation as 'difficult' for the force's effort to fight crime in the country.

"The strike has caused us trouble in terms of the cost of keeping suspects in custody and beyond the mandatory 48 hours required by law yet some of the cases are capital in nature," Mr Kasingye said.

He added: "Our image as the Police force has been tainted by releasing some of the suspects on bond because people do not see the real cause of the problem. Also our effort to fight crime is compromised because holding suspects for long is against their human rights."

Without giving the number of suspects pending court action, Mr Kasingye said the force has more than 1000 stations countrywide which are all stuck with case files involving different charges that can only be handled with the guidance of state attorneys.

Mr Vincent Mugabo, the spokesperson of the Judiciary, said courts are open but have not received new case files handled by the DPP.

"Those (people) in prison, their cases are not being heard because there is no prosecutor to lead the evidence. There are so many people accused but they cannot be produced in courts," Mr Mugabo said, adding that courts are currently handling civil cases and only criminal cases prosecuted by other agencies like the inspectorate of government.

He was optimistic that the prosecutors' grievances will be resolved urgently.

On October 12, Principal Judge Yorokamu Bamwine directed all the judicial officers to continue handling criminal cases despite the indefinite industrial action and to exercise the law and their powers in determining the fate of cases before them.

"In a criminal case, the main players, namely the prosecution, the accused and the victim all deserve justice. Accordingly, the absence of prosecutors calls for heightened exercise of judicial discretion, that is the exercise of judgement by a judicial officer based on what is fair under the circumstances and guided by the rules and principles of law," Justice Mr Bamwine said.

Justice Bamwine observed that provisions of Article 126 (2) (e) of the Constitution regarding delivering substantive justice to all parties ought to be taken into account in the current situation because justice is as it were not a one way affair.

The president of the Uganda Association of Prosecutors, Mr David Baxter Bakibinga, said they are engaging with government to find a lasting solution.

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