KAMPALA – Shocking results have indicated that about 48% of detainees in Uganda are not tried by the courts of law as of 2023.
Irene Anying, Country Director, Avocats Sans Frontieres (ASF) made the revelation during the National Dialogue of pretrial detention and detention without trial on Thursday.
She noted that the study made in collaboration with the Legal Aid Service Provider’s Network found that the rate of pretrial detention in the country was at about 53.3% in 2021, 49% in July 2022, and about 48% in July 2023.
“These percentages are very indicative of progress, but of course, it leaves a lot to be desired. I believe all of us seated here would love to see these percentages reduce to if nothing between zero to 5%.”
Anying underscored the overall goal of the project to contribute to the realization of the rule of law in the administration of justice in Uganda, with a very specific objective to foster the protection and promotion of constitutional and procedural rights in the administration of justice with a focus on situations of detention.
“In Uganda, detention before trial continues to be a challenge, hence presenting as a norm rather than an exception, which is clearly in breach of both national and international legal frameworks that we have in place in our country.”
She added, “It suffices to point out that Uganda as a country enjoys a relatively protective legal framework for pretrial detention, which is very compliant with a lot of international and regional legal framework, just to mention but a few the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, and our very own African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, which all provide for the right to liberty and security of the person.”
Ms. Anying urged the event participants, most of whom are legal practitioners to reflect on some of the challenges but also the opportunities that are present in safeguarding the procedural and constitutional rights of pretrial detainees.
Sylvia Namubiru Mukasa, CEO, Legal Aid Service Provider’s Network – LASPNET noted that at the initial of the project in 2020, the context was limited enjoyment and protection of procedural rights in Uganda for persons in conflict with the law. She says there was a lot of negative practices and attitudinal attitudes that undermined the integrity of the criminal justice.
“Among these, we had corruption which still persists, impunity of some of the law enforcement agents, delay of case disposal that was causing case backlog, operational challenges, limited the humanity and funding resources to enable the Justice givers do their part.”
These, she said were undermining the right to personal liberty.
During the course, she said they did a lot of sensitization “because it’s very important for the detainees and the community to know their responsibilities, but also how to access justice.”
She noted that the projects saw attitude change perceptions and practices gain for both state and non-state actors but also the increase in awareness of rights and the increase in responsiveness.
Ms. Namubiru said they were challenged with the mindset of some of the Justice givers who don’t respect procedural rights and “usually they will say we don’t have facilities; we are still investigating.”
She also revealed that in some areas, there are no lawyers which makes it very hard to have people defended and have fair hearings.
The other challenge, she noted is understaffing in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution, and delay in having the sessions concluded compounded by the issuance of the bail guidelines.
“48 Hour Rule is still not respected, some absenteeism continues, overcrowding remains in the prisons, lack of fixed places of Abode which limits the grant, lack of understanding of procedures; someone is granted bail and they think they have been acquitted, lack of proper identification documents, among others.”
Mariam Wangadya, Chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission noted that following the monitoring activity, the Commission found that pretrial detainees of inmates remained at a very high of 48% of those in detention, with many having been in detention for over five years.
“The prolonged pretrial detention was attributed to various factors including disruption of court sessions, arrest, and detention before the conclusion of investigations, delays in sanctioning files, and irregular court sessions, among others.”
“Pretrial detainees, among the most vulnerable in our society, often find themselves caught in legal limbo, their rights delayed or denied and their futures uncertain. It is our collective responsibility, therefore, to ensure that the procedural and constitutional rights of detainees are not only protected but that these rights are upheld with the utmost respect and diligence,” she added.
Represented by Mr. Omara Peter, a remember Uganda Human Rights Commission, Wangadya asked the key stakeholders to address a range of challenges, including overcrowded detention facilities, prolonged periods in detention, and inadequate legal representation, among others, which these pretrial detainees experience.
Officiating at the event, Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Norbert Mao noted that bail remains a challenging matter for quite some time.
“The challenge therefore for us is what do we have to tweak in those guidelines in order to address the challenges that we face?” he noted, adding “Other challenges are about how we ensure that those granted do not jump bail for example.”
On legal aid, Mao who was represented by Deputy Solicitor General, Pius Perry Biribonwoha said “this is a matter that we should all bring our heads together to ensure that especially our communities in the rural settings, have access to legal representation.”
“The commitment of government is to ensure that legal aid is provided in a sustainable and transparent manner.”
He also called for the shortest time possible for committal processes.
“To this end, we support the Judiciary’s initiative to have daily hearings of criminal cases at the High Court. This has been made possible by the increase in the number of judges who have been recruited and other judicial officers.”
“Moreover, the DPP has also recently concluded a massive recruitment of state prosecutors. This has been a major problem and I am certain that these interventions will soon bear fruit in ensuring that justice is not delayed.”
- We would like to see the Access to Justice subprogram working with the judiciary consider establishing separate juvenile court cells.
- We would like to see stringent measures on bail a little bit lessened, especially for various categories like refugees.
- There is a need to engage the Minister of Gender and Social Development through the district probation officer to address the challenge of transport for juvenile offenders.
- There is a need to consider the recruitment of more state attorneys to fill the existing resource human gap and have them rational right to equal the number of police officers in a given jurisdiction.
- The judiciary should consider granting non-cash bail to indigent clients in extreme circumstances. Some are really in absolute poverty as long as they have produced identifications and are able to be known where they go.
- There’s a need to consider hearing of criminal cases by judges on a daily basis.
- Police officers should cut out investigations first before you arrest because you must have a prima facie case that takes you to court for alignment.
- There is a need for more sensitization of investigating officers on the procedural rights of suspects.