By Joseph Kato
The judiciary has attributed the stagnated trial of 6,912 suspects in capital offences to Covid19 pandemic that has scaled down activities of court.
James Karemani the spokesperson of the judiciary also cites lack of funds as another factor that has stalled the High Court sessions for already committed suspects.
Karemani’s response follow a concern raised by Uganda Prisons Service-UPS over suspected capital offender who have been on remand for more than two years and their cases have stagnated.
Commissioner of Prisons –CP Frank Baine, the UPS spokesperson, said trials of 6,912 inmates remanded on accusations of committing capital offences have remained in limbo for more than two years thus contributing to congestions in prison centres.
Baine said 4,440 suspected capital offenders completed their mandatory six-month remand period and they were committed for trial in the High Court. Baine adds that the prisoners have been waiting for their trials to start for more than two years thus making their fate unknown.
“We have the committals and who have finished their six-month remand period and they were committed to the High Court. But they have been waiting for trial for more than two years. This implies that if our justice system was very fast, these ones would all be on trial or would have
completed trial,” Baine said.
Other than the 4,440 waiting for trial in the High Court, Baine said 2,472 others also completed their six-month remand period but have been waiting for committal to the High Court for trial for a period exceeding two years.
“All these in essence are part of what is contributing to the congestion to the poisons and we are of course appealing to the justice law and order sector stakeholders to have to expedite on these cases so that we either have convicts or these people their fate is determined,” Baine said.
Being in limbo means the suspects are caught between two stages. In such a scenario, they cannot apply for bail. But Karemani says Covid19 cannot allow them to have the accused in courts adding that is also costly to hold a High Court sessions. Karemani explains that a single
High Court sessions costs about 40 million shillings.
Away from the insufficient funds, Karemani also cites Covid19 pandemic which scaled down the court activities. Uganda has been
operating in partial and sometimes total lockdown since March 21 when the first case was recorded.
“The problem; one is lack of funds for sessions. We don’t have funds to organise sessions in the High Court. I wouldn’t want to say the manpower because we could deal with what we have and handle the sessions but the funds are not there. And of course, this pandemic also adds on the
delay,” Karemani said.
Dr Livingstone Ssewanyana, a renowned human rights lawyer, also believes underfunding of the judiciary is one of the major reasons for case backlog. This, according to Dr Ssewanyana, has stalled the judiciary’s proposal to have a magistrate at every district level.
“The current plan is to have a magistrate at every district and have court of appeal at every region. If that would be possible, it would decongest the prison. Also currently there is limited use of alternatives such as community service program, pre-bargaining,” Dr Ssewanyana said.
Another reason Dr Ssewanyana cites that could be causing case backlog and congestion in prison is the government’s criticism of the judiciary especially on releasing suspects on bail.
When the bail avenue is threatened, Dr Ssewanyana says it means going for full trial is the remaining option.