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To strengthen coordination and networking of LASPs, harmonisation and standardisation of legal aid service provision by the different service providers, lobbying and advocacy to facilitate a favourable legal and policy environment.

LASPNET AND ASF PETITIONS THE PRINCIPAL JUDGE OVER BAIL CONDITIONS AND PRACTICES

On 19th April 2021, LASPNET led a delegation comprising of selected Secretariat staff and Legal Rapid Response Lawyers to engage with the office of the Principal Judge. This engagement came off as one of the strategies proposed by the LASPNET Rapid Response Lawyers and Paralegals, after continuously experiencing bottlenecks in Bail application within various Courts of Law.

 

The Head of Delegation who also doubles as the LASPNET Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Sylvia Namubiru Mukasa, appreciated the Hon. Principal Judge Dr. Flavian Zeija for according LASPNET and ASF an opportunity to engage with his office over Bail conditions and practices within the Courts of Law. In a detailed a Position Paper titled “Conditions and Practices Associated with Granting of Bail in Uganda by the Courts of Law,” Dr. Namubiru underscored that the right to Bail is anchored in Article 23(1) of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, adding that, the jurisprudence on bail aims at achieving a balance between personal liberty and security interest of society.

She further commended the Judiciary for its reforms geared towards improving administration of justice in Uganda. Key among these include: issuance of the Sentencing guidelines which have helped in bringing uniformity, consistency and transparency to the sentencing process as well as advocating for the passing of the Judicature (Reconciliation) Rules 2011, which encourages reconciliation between parties in offences of a personal nature.

The paper also mentions various judicial officers such as Hon. Justice Wilson Kwesiga; Hon. Justice David Batema; Her Worship Mary Ikiit and Her worship Sarah Basemera who have been recognized by Rapid Response Lawyers for expeditious handling of bail applications and granting of fair bail conditions and or terms.

On the other hand, the paper documents notable bad practices in handling Bail applications by the judicial officers. Such incidents include: exorbitant cash bail affecting mainly the urban poor youth; failure by some judicial officers especially at the Chief Magistrates court to observe mandatory release for accused persons who have overstayed on remand; selective bail application and the fact that of recent in Uganda bail is considered for sale.

While reflecting on the effects of refusal of harsh bail conditions, Dr. Namubiru stated that it has led to increased corruption cases in form of bribery hence commoditizing justice; violation of the rights to liberty and of the presumption of innocence as provided for under Article 23(6) (a) and Article 28(3) (a) of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda as amended as well as over congestion of Prisons across the country among others.

“We contend that, streamlining the process of bail application and management will move a long way in complementing the realization of the LASPNET and ASF joint project funded by the Australian Development Corporation (ADC) and the project is called, ‘Protecting procedural and constitutional rights through access to justice.” She explains.

In their recommendations to the Judiciary, LASPNET and ASF highlighted the need to develop Bail application guidelines on bail, which clearly spells out; Cash bail limits for the different offences; clear and well streamlined process of Recovery of bail money as well as observation of mandatory bail without setting any conditionalities as provided in the law. Other proposals mooted to the Judiciary include the need to issue an urgent circular by the Hon Chief Justice as we await the comprehensive bail application guidelines to offer guidance.

In his remarks, the Principal Judge, applauded the great move and intention made by LASPNET and ASF towards enhancing access to justice. He further noted that the engagement with LASPNET was very timely since it makes valid recommendations towards harmonizing the process of granting bail in Courts of law in Uganda. “I thank you for coming up with such a great position paper with a lot of important information to consider. As Judiciary, we promise to examine its content and we hope it will help us to streamline further the process of bail application and management” He expressed.

Regarding the issue of Bail guidelines, the Principal Judge noted that the Judiciary is in the final process of developing the same. He pledged to invite LASPNET at a later stage to provide input during the validation of these guidelines. Additionally, he resonated with LASPNET and ASF, that some Judicial officers are fond of imposing inconsistent bail terms for similar frivolous cases. Therefore, the PJ committed to ensuring that such issues are ironed out in the Bail guidelines.

On a lighter note, the PJ was concerned by the state of legal aid in Uganda. He for instance observed that the suspension of DGF activities has had chilling effects on the delivery of legal services especially by the Justice Centre Uganda, whose clinics have been affected by the ban. He also expressed the need for the National Legal Aid bill in order to facilitate access to justice for the poor and vulnerable.

While concluding the discussion, the PJ noted that he would need a follow up meeting with LASPNET and ASF to discuss the status of recommendations highlighted in the position paper and other access to justice concerns. Whereas on the other hand, Dr, Namubiru appreciated the PJ for his practical leadership and was convinced he will spearhead a number of reforms aimed at improving access to justice within the Judiciary.

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