Why Uganda Should Embrace Plea Bargaining In Judicial System

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Plea bargaining is the process whereby a criminal defendant and prosecutor reach a mutually satisfactory disposition of a criminal case, subject to court’s approval

This is a new venture in the criminal justice system in Uganda majorly
aimed at decongesting prisons. Many of the Ugandan prisons carry almost four times their capacity and the living conditions are poor.

One may argue that since it is a prison, inmates deserve deplorable conditions; but it should also be noted that many of these people are not criminals, but they are just
on remand.

We have just concluded a Plea Bargaining Hands-on training in Western Uganda. A group of seven lawyers from United States, fourteen law students from Pepperdine University USA and Twelve law students from Uganda Christian University.

We worked closely with the Ugandan lawyers holding State Briefs for the Capital offenders. I was overwhelmed by the number of inmates who had applied for the exercise and for one reason or another; we were unable
to handle all of them. It was
such an eye opening experience for me to see someone who looks at me as if I'm their saviour, explaining every bit of how the offence was committed.

Many of them were emotional narrating how they don’t know where their children are, others because they were too remorseful. We handled Katojo Prison in Fort Portal, Mbarara main Prison and Government Prison in Bushenyi.

I realised that since the concept is new in this justice system, all stake holders need a lot of sensitisation. Some judges were said not to respect the plea agreements
reached, even when they were reasonable in the circumstances of the offences.

some state prosecutors were offering unreasonably high sentences and render the exercise
meaningless, the defence lawyers are also not well sensitised and

The inmates themselves little understand the meaning of the
whole exercise because many of them wanted to plead guilty because of the harsh conditions, but at the same time contend that they are innocent.

Others thought that they were helping the state to save money that would have otherwise been used to conduct normal trials well forgetting that there are some inmates who had spent more
than five years without going through trial.

The High Court has been sitting in about two criminal sessions each year and they handle less than ninety cases in each of these High Court circuits. That means that it would take four to five years to try all the 800 inmates in each facility awaiting trial if they considered formal trials.

Plea bargaining would be a better option if well understood by the stake holders, because it is fast, cheap, convenient and timely for those that would want to plead guilty to their offences.

The writer is a Law student at Uganda Christian University