Principal judge orders courts to release untried prisoners

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KAMPALA- The Principal Judge Yorokamu Bamwine has directed all High Court judges and magistrates to release on bail prisoners who have overstayed on remand without trial.
Justice Bamwine, who is the administrative head of the High Court and the subordinate courts, issued the directive on July 17.

He lamented that on his countrywide tours to prisons, he met many prisoners who have stayed on remand beyond the statutory period.

He said Article 23 of the Constitution demands that untried persons remanded on non-capital offences, should be released on mandatory bail after three months in jail.
He further explained that those inmates facing capital offences and have stayed on remand for more than six months without being tried, should also be released on mandatory bail.

Protection of liberties
The principal judge said his directive is intended to protect liberties of suspects as provided for in the Constitution.
“On various visits to remand centres in this country by the Hon Chief Justice and myself, have revealed and continue to reveal existence of high numbers of such suspects on remand outside the statutory periods,” Justice Bamwine’s circular reads in part.
“People who should not be in prison, if that constitutional safe- guard was being enforced to the letter, are contributing to the congestion in prisons.

This unnecessary state of affairs ought to be reversed,” he added.
Justice Bamwine reminded judicial officers that it’s their responsibility to give deserved respect to the Constitution and to actively discourage the habit of mere arraigning suspects in court without trying them.
“One way of ensuring compliance is through routine visits to prisons to ascertain the numbers and conditions in prisons and routine meetings with all judicial officers and court staff, among other best practices,” Justice Bamwine noted.
The directive has been forwarded to all heads of High Courts, the court registrars, all chief magistrates and Grade One magistrates to ensure compliance.

Protest
Last week, a woman in Lira Town, Ms Dorcus Akotwho, stripped naked at court in protest of long stay of her relatives on remand.
About a month ago, defence lawyers for suspects in the Kasese violence pressured the magistrate’s court in Jinja to commit them to the International Crimes Division of the High Court for trial.
The suspects had spent more than six months on remand without being committed for trial.
The worst affected suspects are those without defence lawyers.

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