The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) with support from the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women also known as UN Women has launched Prosecutor Plea Bargain Guidelines.
The main objective of the Guidelines is to streamline the processes to be followed by prosecutors in conducting plea bargain and to enhance the efficiency of the criminal justice system for orderly, predictable, uniform, consistent and timely resolution of criminal matters.
The guidelines contain principles of plea bargaining, types of plea bargaining, the law applicable to the process, an outline of the plea bargaining process, contents of the plea bargain agreement, and its execution, monitoring and evaluation of the plea bargain procedure, as well as the roles of the parties involved in plea bargaining, their rights, and support systems.
“The Prosecutor Plea Bargain Guidelines are intended to train and build the capacity of all stakeholders in the criminal justice system and in particular – Prosecutors, Judicial Officers, Defence Lawyers, Police and Prisons Officers on the objectives and procedures of plea bargaining which are human rights based, victim/survivor centred and gender sensitive,” said the DPP Jane Frances Abodo at the launch in Kampala.
On behalf of the Judiciary, the Hon the Principal Judge Dr. Flavian Zeija embraced the Guidelines as a remedy for injustices that were being caused during the process, particularly unfair sentences.
Dr. Benson Oketch, the Chief Guest who represented the UN Women Country Representative at the launch said, “The Guidelines are intended to elevate the survivors’ voices by allowing them to participate in the plea bargain process.”
The DPP expressed her gratitude to UN Women, EU–UN Spotlight Initiative.
‘’The plea bargaining has some benefits because it promotes judicial economy since it saves time and expenses of trials, freeing up the courts to hear other cases. It also promotes expeditious trials and allows the accused, defence counsel, victim and public to participate in the trial and decongests prisons. It is important to note that the right to a fair hearing is provided for under the law and it envisages a fair trial where the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty’’, added Abodo.
She further noted that there is still also limited awareness of the procedure of the plea bargaining by judicial officers, prosecutors, the accused and the general public and in several instances sentences in plea bargaining are entirely discretionary, overly lenient, and bear limited relationship to the Judicial Sentencing Guidelines which leads to abuse by the justice actors.
In May 2014, the Uganda judiciary launched the plea bargaining initiative as part of an overall effort to reduce the case backlog, reduce the time accused persons spend on remand, increase court efficiency, and realize cost-savings. It was launched to try and reduce the challenge of case backlog that had proven to be a challenge to the criminal justice system in the country.
UN Women is empowered to support intergovernmental bodies, such as the Commission on the Status of Women, in their formulation of policies, global standards, and norms. Other goals include helping UN member states implement the above standards, standing ready to provide suitable technical and financial support to those countries that request it and to forge effective partnerships with civil society and enable member states to hold the UN system accountable for its own commitments on gender equality, including regular monitoring of system-wide progress.