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Promising Future: Rights for Prisoners & Justice in Uganda (Part 2/2)

I am now a few weeks into my time in Uganda, and it has been a thoroughly enjoyable trip, enriched by the interesting people I have met and experiences I have encountered. I have learned that in Uganda I am referred to as Salongo (the father of twins). The mother of twins is Nalongo and the twins themselves are Balongo. I am beginning to develop an understanding of how the legal system works in Uganda, but there is still much to learn about the reality of the system on the ground.

High Court Visit

As part of my tour with the African Prisoners Project (APP), I had the opportunity to attend the High Court of Uganda which is situated along one side of Freedom Square in the centre of Kampala. Unfortunately, the courts were not sitting because the prosecutors were on strike over poor pay and conditions. I did, however, bump into one defence attorney and had a chat with him. He invited me to attend a short hearing before the Registrar regarding payment of a fine for a money laundering offence. I also attended the Magistrate’s Court, but it too was closed because of the strike. I did however, manage to gain access to a court room and took one or two photos. The court room was set out very much like ours are in the UK.

Lake Victoria

I also paid a visit to Lake Victoria and met Brian, the brother of my colleague Bruce. Brian is a police officer stationed at one of the landing sites at the Lake. He showed us around the landing site at Kasenyi Entebbe and we had lunch there; fried Tilapia and chips. The police routinely patrol the lake making spot checks for criminals or contraband of the boats coming to and fro. We were given the opportunity to go onboard whilst the boat was on patrol and also to stop over at various beaches to taste the atmosphere at some of the resorts. At one of those sites there were several disused planes and a poster referencing the Entebbe Airport hostage rescue carried out by Israeli special forces during the course of which several persons including hostages, captors and agents lost their lives.

Prison Seminars

The seminars with the students at prison began in earnest on the Monday of week two. I attended the men’s prison on Monday through Thursday and at the Women’s prison on Friday. The prison at Luzira is a maximum-security prison housing around 3000 prisoners. As with all prisons, gaining access is a time-consuming and rather tedious process but the guards seemed genuinely pleased to see representatives of APP and they have always been extremely welcoming. The atmosphere at the prison is quite different to the atmosphere in prisons in the UK. It may have something to do with the weather and the fact that it appears that the prisoners spend the vast majority of their time outside. The prisoners also appear to mingle together without much, if any, segregation. Those on the condemned wing are distinguishable from the others because they wear white prison issue uniforms.

In order to get to the classrooms, we must cross through the prison yard and in so doing we are in the company of the prisoners. We are not accompanied by any guards during this process but there is no sense of danger or being exposed to danger. The prisoners are polite without exception and mildly curious.

Having arrived at the classroom I was greeted by the students. There are eight students in total in the men’s prison all of whom are at various stages of the LLB course run by the University of London.

It would be remiss of me not to mention each student by name, Patrick; Sowedi; Pascal; Anthony; Lord PK; John and Ismail. The final student is Robert; a prison guard and an integral part of the group. The atmosphere is warm; friendly and inviting. I had given the students a moot to prepare at the introductory meeting and was impressed that each group of students had prepared their presentations conscientiously and that each individual had approached the task seriously, but with good humour.

I assessed the students both in terms of the written skeletons they had drafted and their individual and collective oral presentations and provided them with detailed feedback. They were grateful for the feedback and happily entertained constructive criticism in front of their peers. I had obtained their consent to this approach to providing feedback because many of the comments I made were transferable between teams and individuals, although of course some had performed better than others. For the remainder of that seminar and throughout the course of the week we discussed the art of advocacy in terms of written and oral presentation and the strategic approach to preparing cases for trial as well as the implementation of strategies through the various means available to the advocate, such as legal submissions and cross-examination and closing speeches.

Thereafter I provided the relevant materials to enable them to prepare for a ‘public’ moot in the Great Hall at Upper Luzira prison. I indicated that I will present a prize to the best individual speaker irrespective of whether his team won the moot or not. The moot was to be judged by three of us, Sharon; Bruce and myself. The students were all keen to embrace the element of competition. The criteria to be evaluated are: court etiquette; use of the law; responses to judicial intervention.

Public Moot at Upper Prison Luzira

I attended the moot at the male prison together with the representatives of APP (Bruce, Sharon, Jackson and Sumayya). I had purchased a watch as a prize and secured the consent of Peter and Sharon to present it to the winner. The only obstacle to that course was to get it through security at the prison. As things turned out, the prison would not permit the watch to be presented as a prize, but perhaps that was a ‘blessing in disguise’ because it may have caused some discord amongst the students. The moot itself passed off successfully. As there are eight students, we had two teams of four who performed the same moot before the audience so that there was a ‘level playing field’.

Prison Moot

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The issue in the moot, in the Court of Appeal Criminal Division, was whether ‘loss of control’ should have been left to the jury by the trial judge in circumstances in which there had been a ‘cooling off period’ before the appellant who was a victim of domestic abuse over many years, had clubbed her partner to death. The trial judge had refused to lead the partial defence to the jury on the basis that there was insufficient evidence upon which a reasonable jury properly directed could reasonably conclude that the defence might apply.

Pascal and Anthony acted on behalf of the appellant in the first moot, pitted against Robert and Ismail who acted on behalf of the respondent. In the second moot John and Patrick took on Paul and Sowedi. Prior to submissions from the participants, the judges (myself, Sharon and Bruce) introduced ourselves to the audience and I explained the rules of the moot and read out the moot problem so that everyone present had an understanding of the court process. Each team had provided the moot court with skeleton submissions prior to the commencement of the moot. The advocates submissions were expressed in clear terms and each member of the teams spoke for the allotted time. The respondent teams in each moot proved more convincing and so on each occasion the appeal was dismissed. The outstanding team was Sowedi and Paul and after some debate between us as judges, Sowedi was determined to be the overall winner. Everyone accepted the result in good grace although there were good humoured asides by some who felt they deserved to win.

Interesting Encounters

Bruce and I met up with Sarah Kerwegi, a Ugandan lawyer based in Kampala (with experience in the International Criminal Court) whom I had the pleasure of meeting in June 2017 when I attended at The Hague to learn about the processes and procedures of the International Criminal Court. The restaurant we ate at was in downtown Kampala - the food was very simple (BBQ pork), but tasty. It was an interesting evening at which the conversation traversed many different issues, including how to gain accreditation to the Ugandan Bar; politics; and the pros and cons of living and working in Uganda.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Adam Key. Adam is a professor from Houston, Texas, currently studying for his Doctorate in Communications. He was visiting APP in Kampala for a couple of days, having just arrived from APP’s headquarters in Nairobi. He had met Mclean at a TED conference earlier in the year and he had been invited to attend at APP to see how it operates, and to provide APP with the benefit of his expertise in teaching prisoners.

I was very interested to meet Adam because of his experience in advocacy and public speaking developed during his academic studies. He is not a lawyer. I was intrigued to understand his approach to teaching of public speaking and advocacy. When he began espousing his theories I was relieved to hear that much of what he was disclosing to me mirrored the contents of the seminars I had delivered. Our conversations ranged over many topics, including politics (The ‘Trump’ effect on America’s relations with the rest of the world); theories of public speaking; delivering seminars and interacting with prisoners in the US; and tattoos (Adam is the proud bearer of a body virtually covered head to toe in tattoos). Adam is clearly ‘left’ leaning with a social conscience. He expressed his admiration for the highly motivated students he met at Luzira. I had hoped to get him to conduct one of the seminars, in my stead, so that I could take up a seat as part of the audience but unfortunately the session was cancelled. It was a shame because I was interested to learn how he approached the teaching of these subjects. Adam told me that visiting the UK was on his ‘bucket list’ and so I invited him to speak at our chambers, which he readily accepted.

World Aids Day

I was due to conduct my first seminar to the women prisoners, which, as with the men, was to begin with their presentations on the moot problem I had set them the previous week. As things worked out the date coincided with World Aids Day and Luzira prisons had organised an event at the Upper prison to educate the prisoners on the issue of AIDS- its proliferation and prevention. The event consisted of short plays in the main square of the prison knows as BOMA. Rappers and singers performed from amongst the prisoners. A choir of women prisoners attended, who sang a series of songs which proved immensely popular with the captive audience.

After the event at the prison I went shopping with Jackson and Bruce to buy files for the students to enhance their professionalism and comfort when presenting their submissions. I purchased the files in GAME where we also searched for prizes which it would be appropriate to award to the individual winner of the moot competition. We did not find anything suitable, so we adjourned to an African coffee shop where Bruce and I drank African coffee and we each had a muffin. Later on, we went to a cool bar and Jackson and myself had a couple of beers and I introduced him to Malt whisky – which he enjoyed. We then ate at the newly opened Indian restaurant across the road which proved to have an authentic ambience and decent spicy food.

Luzira Women’s Prison

I attended the women’s prison again the following week, and met the students Betty, Barbara, and Christine. I recognised Barbara as the lead singer for the women’s choir at the Aids Day event, and congratulated her on her performance and that of her fellow choristers. As I had done with the men, I invited the students to present the moot they had prepared. Each of the students gave an impressive performance. They were all confident in their delivery and they had grasped the issues. They applied the relevant principles to the facts and drew appropriate conclusions. Betty was confident and articulate. Barbara demonstrated a clear understanding of the relevant issues and she successfully extrapolated from her researches a compelling argument, that ‘confidential information’ was not property within the definition of the Theft Act 1968. Christine, who acted for the respondent, was innovative, arguing that there had been an intention to permanently deprive because the ‘usefulness of the confidential information had been exhausted’. Her analysis accords exactly with much of the academic writing on this subject.

To say I was incredibly impressed, bearing in mind they had been left to their own devices, in preparation would be an understatement. As I said to each of them on the day, “I am blown away!”.

Football Match at Upper Prison Luzira

Together with various members of the APP team I attended the Upper Prison at Luzira to spectate at a football match organised by APP. The students on the LLB course represented Luzira Prison and they were supplemented by one or two other prisoners. They were lined up against Bowman’s, a legal firm based in Kampala.

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As far as I am aware this was the first arrangement of this kind; it was uplifting therefore to see that it received the wholesome support of the Officer in Charge of the prison. He spoke eloquently about the positive role of APP in the prison and his genuine desire to remedy the injustices in the criminal process which had led to prisoners being held in an overcrowded environment in circumstances which were often unjustifiable. He movingly told us of his desire to have the condemned section of the prison closed down and for the prison population to be radically reduced. His theme and tone was disarmingly powerful and clearly heartfelt. It resonated with the audience which included senior partners in Bowman’s and the head of APP in Uganda Peter Tibigambwa. Peter also spoke eloquently and incisively and by the time the proceedings drew to a close APP had been lauded by all those present from the prisoners and students to the prison officials.

It is enlightening and humbling to comprehend the profundity of the desire for change from all protagonists. Yet the desire for change is expressed in an even handed; realistic but determined tone. There is a sense of expectancy hanging in the air but at the same time there is a feeling of nervous tension in case the opportunity should not be grasped right now. There is a tangible fear that unless pressure is maintained momentum may dissipate and the not insignificant gains already made may evaporate.

As regards the football, the students team beat Bowman’s 3-1. 

Recommendations of the Students

At the football event, Anthony approached me (unsolicited), and handed to me a piece of paper containing proposed recommendations that had been drafted on behalf of the students.

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The students identified that they appreciated the important legal knowledge provided to them by the advocates in terms of ethics, skills, knowledge and vast experience, however they suggested that in the near future Ugandan lawyers should be brought in to the prisons give the reality of how things are done in the Ugandan Justice System. The students also recommended that the advocates and facilitators should be given more time for moral effectiveness and thorough presentation. They also requested more advocacy training as they considered it vital to their development.

I am of the opinion, that, at least in part, the catalyst for these recommendations arose from one of my seminars to the students during the course of which a student identified an issue in his case which had led to his conviction and I was shocked by what I was told about the lack of preparation for trial. I expressed my opinion in a forthright manner and this led to a discussion during which the students stated that, in effect, the Ugandan justice system was ‘broken’. I stated that I could only provide teaching based on the generic qualities of the advocate premised on the grounds that the system was not dysfunctional or not fit for purpose. We then continued as before but it made me feel that a proper understanding of the Ugandan system of criminal justice was required in order to fit the theory into the reality of the situation on the ground. I am going to investigate how I can become an accredited lawyer in Uganda.

Travelled to Jinja – the Source of the Nile, (World’s Longest River)

Together with Bruce, and his brother Brian we took a trip to the source of the Nile at Jinja. Once there we took a short excursion by boat to the actual source (where the Nile intersects with Lake Victoria). It was majestic. We also saw an array of different wildlife on our trip because we attended at a small zoo, where they kept crocodiles; monkeys, and various types of snake, such as vipers; cobras; and adders. I bought a couple of clay bracelets for Nial and Jake (my sons) and a couple of shawls. We then visited a local resort and ate dinner before heading back. It was a fun day out and I got some great photos - definitely worthwhile.

Farewell Kampala

At the conclusion of the moots I thanked everyone for attending and paid special tribute to the participants acknowledging that everyone had played a significant role in making the proceedings a success. We then enjoyed cakes and soft drinks before departing at which point I bid farewell to the students.

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The enthusiasm of the students was something to behold – as was the atmosphere at the prison and the attitude of the prison staff there – it can only be hoped their passion for progress in the prison system and prisoner conditions will gradually infuse its way into the decision makers conscience, and bring the change that is needed.

Mark Kelly Fraud Barrister in London, UK

London based barrister specialising in sexual offences, fraud and financial and regulatory cases, serving Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, London, Bristol and the rest of the UK. You can get in touch with me directly on 020 8108 7186 or by completing the online contact form.

 

 

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