GULU – Inmates at Gulu Main Prison have accused prison and court officials of Amuru, Nwoya and Gulu districts over deliberate denial of access to justice.
Bagonza Daniel Genesis, an inmates’ representative, who was convicted on charges of aggravated defilement at Gulu Main Prison told Chief Justice Bart Katurebe that the officials in the three district court jurisdictions normally delay producing suspects on remand to court.
“The management of Amuru, Nwoya and Gulu court has grossly violated some of the prisoners’ rights to access justice since they delay too much in attending cases before their honourable courts, and at times it can go up to about three months and above for an inmate to wait for a production warrant” Bagonza revealed.
He narrated the regular ordeal of his incarcerated mates who take ages to be brought from Amuru and Nwoya to attend High court hearings in Gulu district.
Chief Justice Katurebe officiated at the launch of plea bargain court session to inmates at Gulu Main Prison on Wednesday, June 19. The court session is taking place at the prison facility from Wednesday 19th June to Friday the 21st day of June this year.
The same rights violation, according to the convict, is affecting joint offenders remanded at Gulu Main Prison too. He noted that some of the joint offenders have been acquitted while others are in indefinite remand at the facility because the prison and court authority keeps telling them that their files got lost.
He also accused Police Criminal Investigators of poor and insufficient investigations which have sent many petty offenders to face capital charges with long duration on remand in prison cells.
He appealed to the Chief Justice to appoint more judges, provide a bus to transport inmates, strengthen CIDs and ensure prison health services are well elevated to cater to the inmates that suffer from various diseases due to congestion.
He noted that 300 inmates have had their cases resolved through plea bargaining and 20 inmates had been released and reintegrated into their respective communities by last year. He also appealed to government to allow plea-bargaining to run throughout the year.
Mr Akena, Director Operational of Uganda Prison services noted that delays in the delivery of justice by prison services in Uganda is a result of inadequate staff to handle the overwhelming number of offenders.
“We have a population of over 57,000 inmates whereby 51 per cent are convicted, less than 49 per cent remanded but we only have 9,500 staffs to take care of them yet our facilities can only accommodate 16,000 inmates,” Akena said.
He applauded Professor Danny Dewalt of Pepperdine University for introducing plea bargain in Uganda and arguing that the method is a positive step towards reducing congestion and faster dispensation of justice in different prison facilities across Uganda.
Plea bargaining court service started in 2016 by Professor Danny Dewalt of Pepperdine University of United States of America in a memorandum with Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS). Professor Danny says they project to resolve over 1000 cases through plea bargain each year across various prison facilities in Uganda.
Principal Judge of Uganda, Yorokamu Bamwine encourages inmates to embrace on plea bargain but cautions them to beware of the consequences since it is not a way to escape sentence.
“Before you sign anything, be clear of what you are signing for. Don’t make a desperate uninformed decision.” Bamwine cautions.
He directed inmates willing to take plea bargaining to access enough information from lawyers attached to handle their cases urging the session can benefit them through reduction of a serious charge like murder to manslaughter if circumstances point to that and offender facing many sentences can be allowed to serve a few sentences.
Meanwhile, Chief Justice Katurebe called upon inmates to be patience with the court processes because the government is not capable of financing the institution fully.
“We can recognize that the government doesn’t have the capacity to provide everything in terms of staff housing, transport and enough fund to facilitate judges and other court officials to dispense justice within time and that is why we want to use a different method to like plea bargaining to reduce on the burden.” CJ Katurebe stated.
He advised inmates to serve their sentence with remorse as they prepare to be reintegrated in their communities.
According to CJ Katurebe, Judicial service commission is recruiting new judges and promised to send two judges to Gulu High Court Circuit once they have been committed to the system.