Judiciary Should Increase Specialised Courts For Wildlife Crimes

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Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has organized conservation media awards under various categories namely; community conservation, wild protection, wildlife crime, and habitat and environment conservation.

As a lawyer and a freelance writer what caught my attention most is the sub-theme of wildlife crime and it is what I am going to react to in this piece.

There are various international and regional laws of which Uganda is a signatory whose aim seeks to protect wildlife from extinction however, my concentration will be on some domestic laws thus, the Ugandan Constitution of 1995 (as amended) under National Objective and Directive Principles of State Policy enjoins the State under Objective XXII to protect important natural resources, including land, water, wetlands, minerals, oil, fauna and flora on behalf of the people of Uganda.

It goes on under Objective XXII (iv)(a) to appeal to state and local governments to ensure that they create and develop parks, reserves, and recreation areas and to ensure that they conserve natural resources and (b) to promote the rational use of natural resources to safeguard and protect the biodiversity of Uganda.

These among other provisions in the Constitution form the bedrock under which protection of wildlife is hinged. 

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UWA is governed by the legal regime of the Uganda Wildlife Act 2019.

The Act has various penal provisions which I will not delve into in detail since the segment of the subject matter in question gives me pointers to dwell on how arrests and prosecution are done and the legal consequences of harming wild animals and habitats.

Charles Dickens in his novel Hard Times cautions us thus: ‘’Now, what I want is facts, teach these boys and girls nothing but facts. Facts alone are wanted in life, plant nothing else, and root everything else. You can only form the mind of reasoning animals upon facts: Nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to facts, sir!’’ 

After warning myself with Dickens’ quote I will not reinvent the wheel since in the recent past UWA in partnership with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (ODPP) has come up with a kind of a handbook themed: ‘’ Wildlife offenses in Uganda and sub-titled; ‘’Points to Prove’’- A guide for the Prosecutors and Investigators including the new Uganda Wildlife Act 2019, Sample Charges and Standard Operating Procedure.’’

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On arrest, the guidelines establish two phases of Pre and post-arrest actions and what transpires in the former is that where an arrest is being contemplated, the prosecution and I.O. (Investigating Officer) should ensure that a pre-arrest conference is held as soon as possible after the notification from the I.O to the prosecutor and the essence of this is to address inter alia: identifying a prosecutor and I.O to handle the matter, possible offense to charge, line of inquiry, admissibility of evidence, the potential need for expert evidence, preservation of crime scene and collection and handling exhibits, consideration of issues regarding witness protection and care, etc.

While the latter is to the effect that where an arrest is made in the absence of prior consultation with the prosecution the following should suffice: Recording of the accused statement(s), recording charge and caution statement, conducting identification parade where necessary, lifting of fingerprints for the objects and suspects involved, consideration of bail and any other relevant applications, any further inquiry by the investigator in consideration to the need for liaison with any other relevant agencies such as immigration, drafting charge sheet etc. all these elaborate process in the guidelines and various penal sections such as Sections  29, 30, 36 (3)  52, 57, 59, 60, 61, etc. under wildlife Act 2019 goes to show that there are dire consequences for all those that encroach on the environment of wildlife.

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Enter the issue of court, I have attended several court sessions at Buganda Road Chief Magistrate Court and realized that whenever it is the turn of reading a file on wildlife crime, I hear many of these files coming from distant districts of Uganda until I became curious and asked how comes courts in those areas where suspects are coming from don’t try these cases, one of court officials told me that Buganda Road has been designated to try such offenses.

Now that recently Chief Justice in consultation with Minister of Justice has come out and issued the magistrate courts (magistrate areas and magistrate courts instrument 2024, No. 11) that will increase magistrate areas, my appeal to the Judiciary and other Justice stakeholders is to empower more courts, especially those districts that have game parks to try wildlife crimes for obvious reasons to keep the chain of evidence intact and save costs of transporting witnesses to and from Kampala. 

And yes again like Charles Dickens with Oliver Twist crying for more, UWA need more specialized courts for wildlife crimes!


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