By Filomena Gehart
Paula and I have been able to travel with the Director of Public Prosecutions this week as he visits the various stations of the DPP throughout Western Uganda. It is evident that the stakeholders are extremely grateful that the DPP has dedicated his time to meet them. I too have the utmost respect for Justice Chibita’s commitment to the people he serves. I admire him for how he prioritizes hearing from the people rather than lecturing his opinion. He strives for justice. He is a wise leader, and I feel blessed to be able to see him work. He treats Paula and I like honored guests, when we are the ones who owe him so much. Justice Chibita values the relationship with Pepperdine. Everyone we work with has been so caring towards us.
Every meeting starts with an opening prayer. I love how that is a priority at each station we go to.
I am learning a lot about the criminal justice system here. When someone is arrested, they are put into jail, and due to the large case backlog, they wait in jail for years before going to trial to decide whether they are innocent or guilty. In one of the towns we have been traveling to, the prison capacity is around 80 but the actual inmate number is around 500. Right now the DPP tries to prosecute 100% of cases (even chicken thieves), but the towns are eager to introduce plea bargaining, and many inmates are also very hopeful for that. The towns speak different dialects and there is no standardized test to be a translator so it is hard for people who don’t speak English to have a fair trial. There are not enough defense resources, so a lot of people have to represent themselves, and some don’t have access to resources to help explain the law (especially if they don’t speak English). Refugees also face challenges with a fair trial. Another huge problem due to the backlog is witnesses lose interest in the case, move, die, or receive threats, and so they do not want to testify anymore and without witnesses, there is no case. We also heard a sad story about a man who defiled a young girl, but then persuaded her family not to charge him by giving them a goat. The young girl can never be fully compensated for her suffering.
There are a lot of improvements to be hopeful about. An IT system is being introduced and soon the stations will have Internet. The Public Service Commission is now running again and hiring 60 more attorneys. Regional offices have been added to strengthen capacity in the field. And plea bargaining should help alleviate the pressure from the case backlog. With Justice Chibita in charge, public prosecutions will become more efficient and just.