Evolve is a pro bono criminal justice development organisation. We use the experience and skills of legal experts to promote positive changes in the criminal justice sector.
Our aim is to improve access to justice; build the capacity of lawyers, judges and institutions; and promote respect for human rights and the rule of law in criminal justice systems.
Our current projects focus on criminal justice delivery in Uganda. We work in close partnership with Uganda's Justice, Law and Order Sector ('JLOS') to solve problems and promote reforms in the areas identified above.
Attorney General v. Susan Kigula and 417 Ors
In 2009, the Supreme Court of Uganda in the case of Attorney General v. Susan Kigula and 417 others upheld a decision of the Constitutional Court that the mandatory death penalty was unconstitutional. Prior to that decision, all serious offences attracted an automatic death sentence, leaving no room for mitigation on behalf of vulnerable or less culpable defendants.
After the decision in Kigula, all defendants previously sentenced to a mandatory sentence of death were sent back to the High Court for mitigation so that they could be given a constitutionally lawful sentence, for the first time. This was the the Kigula re-sentencing process. The process has been ongoing for over 10 years and is almost complete.
Evolve was originally founded in 2014 to tackle problems in the criminal justice system of Uganda, after its members had previously worked with stakeholders on access to justice for condemned prisoners, training of lawyers and judges, and capacity building in capital cases.
Evolve's initial work was to continue facilitating the Kigula re-sentencing process. Evolve lawyers pioneered pre-sentence reports, social inquiry reports and mental health assessments; trained judges and lawyers on international sentencing best practice; acted as amicus in Kigula cases; traced missing files; oversaw the collection of mitigation; and more.
Evolve lawyers also helped offer broader support to capital defendants, and their advocates, during the same period.
In total Evolve has assisted over 500 capital defendants access justice.
Inconsistencies in Sentencing
Evolve's work on the re-sentencing process of Kigula beneficiaries highlighted inconsistent approaches to sentencing by court users and across court levels.
Our lawyers noticed disparities in sentence length; in credit for mitigating factors, and in the test applied when deciding whether to impose the death penalty, even in comparable cases. Depending on the advocate, the court, or the judge, defendants being sentenced on similar facts had no guarantee of receiving similar sentences.
The Judiciary of Uganda had also noted these same discrepancies. They were the catalyst for the development, in 2013, of High Court Sentencing Guidelines, which were introduced to harmonise sentencing approaches across Uganda.
In 2017 Evolve, with support from the Rule of Law Expertise Program ('ROLE UK'), conducted research over 574 different sentencing decisions to monitor implementation of the 2013 High Court Guidelines, and to test whether those guidelines had succeeded in reducing sentencing disparities.
In partnership with ROLE UK and the Judiciary of Uganda, two days of the 2018 Annual Judicial Conference were dedicated to questions of sentencing consistency and practice. Evolve presented its research, which observed ongoing inconsistencies in sentencing practice, and also in usage of the guidelines by judicial officers, amongst whom considerable controversy persists as to the appropriate balance between guidelines and judicial discretion.
JLOS stakeholders, the Ugandan Judiciary, and the Sentencing Guidelines Committee in particular are now working with Evolve on a program to address these issues with a new generation of sentencing guidelines.