Nobody goes to prison in Uganda any more, they’re all on bail pending appeal

Tuesday April 23 2019

Doesn’t a legal maxim say that it is better to

Doesn’t a legal maxim say that it is better to set 10 guilty men free than to convict one innocent fellow? Ugandan judges seem to obey this principle to the letter; even after convicting a guilty guy, set him free rather than er...convict the ones who have not been charged. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH | NMG 

JOACHIM BUWEMBO
By JOACHIM BUWEMBO
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Ugandan judges are the kindest in the world. God bless their merciful hearts!

Even when the usually lousy prosecution secures a conviction against you, especially if you have stolen a big sum of public funds, they still grant you bail “pending appeal.”

And as there aren’t enough judges to assign to your appeal, you can serve most of your sentence in the comfort of your home staying with your loved ones and running your businesses until a few months to the end of the term you were sentenced to.

Then they hear the appeal, which you lose; you are sent to complete your sentence and a few months after, you come out a clean man.

Please don’t get me wrong—I am not begrudging guys who have served ninety per cent of their criminal term with their families on “bail pending appeal.”

Some of them, including a jolly, gregarious friend of mine, even sired a few kids while serving their sentence on bail, before being sent back in to complete the balance of their sentence.

Most recent beneficiaries—and I am not begrudging anybody their freedom—are guys convicted over a project that didn’t happen but money for it was disbursed.

Doesn’t a legal maxim say that it is better to set 10 guilty men free than to convict one innocent fellow? Our judges seem to obey this principle to the letter; even after convicting a guilty guy, set him free rather than er...convict the ones who have not been charged.

And that is what seems to be at the back of the judges’ minds—that too many well-known thieves are not charged, so why jail the ones who are convicted but are still claiming they are innocent? Let them serve their sentence at home.

Convicting a guy in a high-profile case a few years back, the judge said that he was aware of other big fish who should have been in the dock with him on the same case, but he could only convict one who has been charged and tried, not the others outside court.

Judges are also aware of the excruciatingly slow machine of Ugandan justice, and yet they were taught that justice delayed is justice denied.

What if you deny a convict bail and he wins his slow appeal after serving the whole sentence? The principal judge, on his tours of detention facilities, tends to beg fellows on remand not to plead guilty when they know they are innocent.

But common sense favours innocent suspects who plead guilty and get light sentences for “not wasting the court’s time” rather than rotting in remand for longer than the maximum sentence for the given offence.

That way, all are equal before the law, because everybody gets released – the innocent poor who plead guilty and get short sentences, and the convicted rich who get bail pending appeal.

But judicial procedure is so complicated that I will follow the advice of a retired Ugandan general who told journalists who were pestering him about controversies involving the military top brass to leave matters of generals to the generals.

I shall leave matters of justice to the judges and say no more about bail for convicts.

Joachim Buwembo is a retired journalist and a consultant based in Kampala. E-mail: [email protected]

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