Judiciary issues more guidelines as criminal sessions resume

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The acting Chief Justice, Alfonse Owiny Dollo has Tuesday issued additional guidelines for the conduct of all criminal sessions in Uganda amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. The guidelines delivered by way of office instruction provide for the resumption of conduct of criminal sessions in all courts of judicature which had been previously suspended by Retired Chief Justice, Bart Katureebe on the of 19th March in an administrative and contingency plan to prevent and mitigate the spread of the virus.

According to the new guidelines, there will be no open court appearances and criminal sessions must be conducted with ‘strict observance’ of the Presidential Directives and Ministry of Health Guidelines and Standard Operations Procedures(SOPs) issued in a bid to control the spread of the deadly corona virus.

These guidelines, which according to the acting Chief Justice, may be amended from time to time, require all courts to conduct pre-session meetings with stakeholders like the Director of Public Prosecutions(DPP), Police, Prisons, Advocates and Probation Officers to agree on how the sessions are to be conducted. Plea taking and fixing of trial dates shall be done at prison facilities however, for courts with Audio-visual facilities, pre-trial activities may be conducted through the facilities.

The guidelines which require sessions to be closed off to the public with the exception of witnesses, complainants and the relevant actors provide that conferencing in pre-trial cases shall be held for all cases to determine among other matters relating to witnesses, evidence and trial period. They also prohibit accused persons from mixing with the members of public while at the court premises with the exception of the defense lawyers.

’’Accused persons shall not mix with the members of the public while at court premises with the exception of defense counsel/Advocates who shall do so with the help of prison authorities while observing the Standard Operations Procedures (SOPs) issued by the Ministry of Health,’’ the guidelines read in part.

According to earlier guidelines issued by Retired Chief Justice, Bart Katureebe, no prisoners or remands were to be presented in court but where possible, proceedings were to be conducted via video link.  The new guidelines provide that advocates will be given sufficient time to meet their clients with the guidance of prisons authorities while observing Standard Operation Procedures (SOPs) issued by the ministry of health. Concerning minors taking part in the sessions, the acting Chief Justice’s guidelines say that these may be accompanied by one parent or guardian or a probation officer.


 

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