MASINDI – By 9:00am on Monday, two Plea Bargaining Court sessions were ready to proceed as part of a three-day hands-on training currently going-on at Masindi Main Prison.
Judges; Jane Okuo and Jesse Byaruhanga Rugyema had 88 cases where the accused persons had signed agreements ready to plead guilty in exchange for lesser charges or lenient sentences.
The two Judges were being helped by a team of prosecutors and defence attorneys together with the Judiciary Technical Advisor, Mr Andrew Khaukha, who doubles as coordinator of the Plea Bargaining programme – on hand to ensure everything goes according to plan.
The Principal Judge, Dr Flavian Zeija, who formally flagged off the exercise, urged inmates who know they are guilty of the offences they are charged with to utilize the fast access to justice initiative.
The inmates, in their memorandum, decried defense lawyers who force them to plead guilty. The PJ said at times lawyers have perused the file and seen the evidence against their clients and want to get better bargains.
On how one can be compensated after being acquitted, he advised them to file civil cases against the Attorney General after the conclusion of the cases.
The inmates also sought the PJ’s indulgence on why bail applications are often denied. To this, he said there are several considerations Court makes before granting or declining bail to accused persons.
The PJ reassured the inmates that plans are underway to hold a High Court Criminal session in Kiboga.
The PJ used the camp as a platform to introduce Justice Byaruhanga as the new Resident Judge, Masindi High Court who he said with funds permitting, would quickly handle the pending cases.
Justice Jane Frances Abodo, the Director of Public Prosecution, reassured the inmates that normal court sessions are planned but it was pointless to make an accused person wait for periods of time when they can take advantage of Plea Bargaining.
On what can be plea bargained, the DPP said accused persons can negotiate for a reduction of charges, lesser sentence and reducing counts where multiple offences are concerned.
She cautioned against the misuse of Plea Bargaining. “Don’t Plea Bargain because you are tired of being in prison. If you do, the actual criminals go unscathed.”
Justice Abodo emphasized that for every sentence offer made, time spent on remand will be deducted.
In a report presented by the Officer in charge of Masindi Prison, SSP Felix Mugasha, out of the 1,750 inmates at the facility, 723 are convicts while 1027 are on remand.
He pointed out that the prison has challenges of overstay on remand with cases as old as 2014 waiting for High Court sessions.
He also attributed the congestion at the facility effects of COVID-19 which have negatively impacted regular court sessions.
Me Mugasha appealed to the Judiciary administration to hold more regular court sessions alongside Plea Bargaining if Case backlog is to be dealt with.
Justice Byaruhanga, on his part, urged the inmates to pay keen attention to the “gospel of Plea Bargaining.”
He noted that there are more than 600 inmates who have been committed to the High Court for trial. Adding that without Plea Bargaining, these would take at least six years to be concluded under the normal session system where three sessions are held per year.
Speaking on behalf of the Commissioner-General of Prisoner, Mr Apollo Baker Asinjah, the Commissioner Custodial Sentences, said Uganda Prisons Services is grateful for Plea Bargaining.
He thanked the Judiciary for ensuring that the initiative can be accessed in any part of the country.
The Judiciary Public Relations Officer of the Judiciary, Jamson Karemani, moderated the training that was attended by among others Elubu Xavier, the Regional Prisons Commander, Assistant Registrar, Simon Zirintuusa and Assistant DPP Florence Akello.