Kampala — For lack of a proper legal framework to protect witnesses/victims of crime, the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), has launched guidelines for prosecutors to use as a temporary measure if they are to effectively combat crime in the country.
The guidelines are meant to assist prosecutors to determine the witness protection perimeters and the scope of protection in absence of the legislation.
"At the moment, as most of us know, there is no legislation in Uganda to provide for protection of witnesses. Indeed it's a bit awkward that we are launching manuals for victims' rights and witness protection in absence of an enabling law," said DPP Mike Chibita during the launch last Friday.
He continued: "The alternative should have been us to sit and fold our hands and wait but we had to do what we could with the resources that we have. So even if the enabling legislation is not there, we still with the help of our friends, came up with these guidelines."
Justice Chibita lamented of how it has been hard to prosecute criminal cases in absence of an enabling law that protects witnesses.
He gave an example of how they had to hire a car to be on standby and wait for a witness at the gate to whisk him/her away to the airport and take refuge in another country for fear of being harmed after testifying in a terrorism case he declined to name.
The DPP said the budget for such expenses is not provided for by Parliament as it is not yet a law.
The chief government prosecutor urged all law enforcement officers, representatives of government and the general public to advocate for the witness protection law to be passed so that the security of the witnesses is guaranteed.
Justice Minister Kahinda Otafiire, in his remarks read by deputy Solicitor General Christopher Gashirabake said government has come up with different ways of protecting witnesses like the video conferencing technology.
Under this technology, a pre-trial session for hard core suspects is done online by court as they are in the confines of the prison.
Mr Otafiire pledged that government would introduce the Witness Protection Bill so as to have it passed into law.
- Brief victims and witnesses about court activities on witness' code of conduct, their rights, obligations, their scheduled availability, time and dates.
- Make victims and witnesses aware of some security concerns and the need to adhere to them.
- As soon as the trial date is set, the prosecutor should inform the witnesses that he/she intends to call in advance so that his movements can be adequately planned early enough.
- Establish an on-call system to keep the witnesses informed about any changes and reduce inconveniences caused by changing court's schedule
- Manage the number of witnesses present at the court premises to reduce their visibility.
- Be ready to make quick and timely response to threatened victims and witnesses
- Put in place full time emergency contact for victims and witnesses and direct physical protection to witnesses and their families as necessary.
- File a motion for delayed disclosure of documents pertaining to the witnesses' identity to the other party until such a witness is fully protected.
- Recommend protective measures for victims and witnesses.
- Ensure that there is a provision for separate rooms for victims and witnesses who are in need of protection from witnesses of the accused persons.
- Apply to court in camera to be relieved from an obligation to disclose information in the prosecutor's possession if its disclosure may prejudice ongoing investigations or for any other state.