Courts in Uganda need to adopt pre-trial hearings and summary dismissals in criminal cases to reduce prison congestion and unfair pre-trial detention
Pre trial detention occurs at the police station before a suspect is arraigned in court and in prison or detention centers after being remanded by court. Article 23 of the Constitution of Uganda limits pre-trial detention at the police station to 48 hours but often law enforcement agencies violate this rule with impunity because they are shield from accountability and liability by the state. In Ugandan prisons more fifty percent of the prison population is made up of pre-trial detainees not yet convicted of a crime. A majority of the pretrial detainees are held due to lack of alternatives or because they cannot afford to pay a bail fee or due to high prevalence of jumping bail and lack of a mechanism to enforce bail terms. The biggest driver of pre-trial detention is the arraignment of suspects in Magistrates Courts that have no jurisdiction to grant them bail or hold a meaningful pre-trial hearing. Opponents of Pre-trial detention argue that it undermines the chance of a fair trial and the rule of law.
Penal reform International argues that people in pre-trial detention are particularly likely to suffer violence and abuse. This risk stems not only from prison staff and people in prison, but police also use illegal force or torture to gain a statement or confession. Without legal assistance, and isolated from family and friends, withstanding pressure is not easy. The prevalence of pre-trial detention contributes to prison overcrowding, exacerbating poor prison conditions and heightening the risk of torture and ill-treatment.
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