GULU – At least 300 capital cases will be concluded in Gulu this week, thanks to Plea Bargaining Prison Camp which was opened on Thursday by the Chief Justice at Gulu Main Prison.
More than 100 of the cases were handled on Thursday by Lady Justice Jane Frances Abodo and the rest are expected to be finalised by close of the week.
The Officer in Charge of Gulu Main Prison, Emmanuel Mucunguzi, explained that last year alone, five Plea Bargaining sessions were held and about 600 matters were concluded, which eased congestion at the facility.
He asked for continuous Plea Bargaining sessions to enhance access to justice at the facility.
This call was repeated by the Uganda Prison Services Director in charge of Correctional Services, Samuel Akena, who said prisons support the programme because it eases congestion in prisons.
At the occasion, the Principal Judge, Dr Yorokamu Bamwine, was also christened ”Mr. Plea Bargaining” by Prof Danny DeWalt from Pepperdine University for championing the quick access to the justice system.
Dr Bamwine urged inmates not to make desperate uninformed decisions. He told inmates that the courts will not impose laughable sentences just for the sake of it.
“The Judiciary may be under-funded or lack adequate judges, but you shouldn’t expect a handshake of a sentence from the courts when you sign for Plea Bargain. Sentences should be in accordance with the law”, Dr Bamwine said.
The inmates in their memorandum presented by their leader, Bagonza Daniel Genesis, applauded the Judiciary for the initiative which they said has enabled many convicts to be reunited with their families after serving their sentences.
The inmates appealed for an extra judge at Gulu High Court a, and to enhance manpower at the Amuru and Nwoya Courts, which are currently manned by one magistrate.
They also wondered why time spent on remand is not taken into account during sentencing. The inmates also decried the long stay on remand especially for prisoners committed to the High Court.
They commended the Chief Justice for addressing some of the concerns they had raised during his last visit at the facility in 2017.
The Chief Justice said the Judiciary is committed to doing the best they can to administer justice for all.
He explained that the ultimate goal of the Camp is to train stakeholders such as state attorneys, defence counsel as well as law students on how to conduct plea bargains.
He reassured the inmates that their concerns on the management and operations of Nwoya and Amuru courts would be addressed.
The Chief Justice and Principal Judge were accompanied by Supreme Court Justice and Chairperson of the JTI Governing Council, Stella Arach Amoko and High Court Judge Gadenya Paul Wolimbwa.
The others on the team are Registrar High Court, Tom Chemutai, Inspector of Courts, Immaculate Busingye and Judiciary Technical Advisor, Andrew Khaukha.
A team from Pepperdine University in the USA led by Prof Danny DeWalt were at hand to offer support to defence attorneys allocated to each accused person who enrolled on the programme.
Taking part in the Prison Camp are state attorneys from ODPP, lawyers from International Justice Mission, Uganda Law Society and law students from Uganda Christian University.