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CJ flags Off Masindi Plea Bargaining Prison Camp
Hon. Justice Katureebe addressing the gathering at the Plea Bargain Camp - Masindi

MASINDI: The Chief Justice, Hon.Justice Bart M. Katureebe, started his week-long field visit at Masindi Government Prison where he opened a hands-on Plea Bargaining Prisons Camp. 

The activity is jointly organized with Pepperdine University of USA. Two American Judges: Mr Craig Mitchel and Mr Kennedy Kathleen, and a team from the District Attorney's office in Los Angeles are part of the quick access to justice sensitization campaign. 

The Chief Justice was accompanied by the Principal Judge, Hon. Justice Dr Yorokamu Bamwine, Supreme Court Justice and Chairperson of the Case Backlog Monitoring Committee, Hon. Justice Richard Buteera; the Director of Public Prosecution, Hon.Justice Mike Chibita, Judges of the High Court; Hon. Justice Rugadya Atwoki, Hon.Lady Justice Anna Mugenyi, Hon. Justice Gadenya Paul Wolimbwa and Hon. Justice Lady Jane Frances Abodo. Others on the team are Registrar High Court, HW Tom Chemutai and Judiciary Technical Advisor, Mr Andrew Khaukha.

The Chief Justice was informed that at least 220 inmates had signed to take part in the Plea Bargaining exercise adding that Hon. Justice Lady Justice Abodo between Monday and Tuesday was handling the concluded bargains instantly.

The Chief Registrar, HW Esta Nambayo, said under the regular session system the cases would take two years to be disposed. 

The inmates in their memorandum read by Mr Samuel Okello decried harsh sentences under the Plea Bargaining scheme. They asked for a more predictable system for accused persons to be put on the cause list, and equally appealed for a Court of Appeal session as well as a High Court circuit in Hoima.

Hon.Justice Rugadya, the Masindi Resident Judge applauded Plea Bargain for ensuring that accused persons get justice fast. He however added there is need for normal sessions because plea-bargaining alone will not help.

The Principal Judge said, "We're here to give you information, not forcing you to sign for Plea Bargain. Do not make a desperate decision." 

He also told inmates that plea bargains are not a handshake and sentences must be commensurate to the crimes. "In every criminal case, court is mandated togive a befitting sentence...the State is not broke to warrant a laughable sentence."

The Chief Justice said the purpose of his visit is to assess the magnitude of the problem.

He said the Judiciary had embarked on different initiatives to expedite trials and Plea Bargaining is one of them. The Chief Justice reassured the inmates that all is being done to ensure that the trial process is expedited. "We at the Judiciary are not sleeping, we are looking for solutions to the problem," he said.

He commended Pepperdine University for their support over the years, and emphasized the need for proper legal advice and urged the advocates to ensure that accused persons get proper legal advice.

To ensure that the inmates get adequate legal aid, a team from Pepperdine University led by Prof Danny DeWalt were at hand to offer support defense attorneys allocated to each accused person who enrolled on the programme.

On the Ugandan team are state attorneys from ODPP, lawyers from International Justice Mission, Uganda Law Society and law students from Uganda Christian University.

The OC Masindi Main Prison, SP Annah Kyatuhaire, said the facility, which was originally meant for 266 inmates, now accommodates 1,487 inmates. Of the 1,487 only 495 are convicts while 827 are committed to the High Court for trial. 

The Uganda Prison Services (UPS) Director of Correctional Services, Mr Samuel Akena, commended the Plea Bargain project for enhancing the administration of justice.

UPS leadership applauded efforts that reduce delays to access to justice.

Posted 2nd, July 2019
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