Access to justice
Our access to justice programme assists prisoners convicted of capital offences exercise their right of appeal. Prisoners often have to wait many years before an appeal can be heard, because of misplaced court files and no legal representation.
In Uganda, a person accused or convicted of a capital offence is entitled to a ‘state brief’ for each stage of their case. However, once a hearing has concluded, the brief ends for the state lawyer. This means that a prisoner does not have constant access to a lawyer and must often wait until any further hearings are listed before another state brief is assigned, who may have no prior knowledge of the case. Moreover, the lack of legal representation throughout the duration of a case means that there is no one to prepare grounds of appeal or push the case to be listed. Court sessions are infrequent and the cases that do get heard often relate to individuals who have the means to instruct private lawyers and have their files traced. Cases are not heard according to the length of time a case has been waiting to be heard as court files often do not reach the Court of Appeal in Kampala, particularly when a trial was heard outside of the capital. This leads to further delays for prisoners in accessing justice.
Evolve lawyers and student volunteers assist prisoners and the courts with tracing case files, pushing for the case to be listed. Evolve also assists prisoners with finding lawyers to take on their case, often on a pro bono basis.
To date, Evolve has traced nearly 80 files affecting over 100 individuals.
Training and Education
Evolve believes that the most sustainable way of creating a stronger criminal justice system, founded on the principles of fairness, integrity and efficiency is through building capacity within the legal profession.
Evolve draws on the expertise of its own team and external barristers to train the judiciary, state prosecutors and defence lawyers.
To date, we have trained over 80 members of the legal profession in partnership with the Uganda Law Society in sentencing from both a domestic and international perspective.
Evolve intends to stage training events in Uganda in other areas of criminal law and procedure and develop guides for lawyers and law students.
Evolve works with Ugandan lawyers on capital cases, assisting and guiding them on complex matters of Ugandan law.
The support provided on individual cases through the mentorship scheme helps lawyers in Uganda to develop their legal, analytical and advocacy skills so that they are effectively able to present cases in court.
Evolve is currently working in partnership with a defence advocate in the Court Martial in several appeals against conviction being heard at the Court Martial Appeal Court.
Evolve carries out research on practices and specific areas of law to identify areas of improvement and to inform law reform.
Given our expertise and involvement in hundreds of sentencing hearings in Uganda, we are carrying out research on sentencing practices and patterns since the abolition of the automatic death penalty in 2009. The research and analysis will cover cases heard in the High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. Despite the introduction of the Sentencing Guidelines in 2013, there is still a real inconsistency in approach to sentencing.
Advisory work and reform – will be completed by 25.12.16 evening
Evolve seeks to develop the criminal law and procedure, through strategic cases and by working closely with key players in the justice system.
Prior to the re-sentencing of Susan Kigula beneficiaries in special mitigation sessions, we worked in partnership with the Uganda Law Society, The Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development and the judiciary to develop a pilot scheme of pre-sentence reports and social inquiry reports. Over 230 individuals had the benefit of a pre-sentence report and social inquiry report which provided the sentencing judge crucial information regarding the convict’s background; their progress in prison and impact of the crime on the victim, their families and the community at large so that the most appropriate sentence could be passed.
In terms of developing the law through strategic cases, Evolve was involved in the first case which set out the circumstances in which the death sentence can be imposed, since the Supreme Court upheld the unconstitutionality of the automatic death sentence in Attorney General v Susan Kigula and 417 Others (Constitutional Appeal No. 03 of 2006). In Kakubi Paul and Muramuzi David v Uganda (Criminal Appeal No. 126 of 2008) Uganda’s Court of Appeal set out the test for the discretionary application of the death penalty stating “the death penalty should only be imposed in circumstances which establish the gravest of extreme culpability and where a Court determines that individual reform and rehabilitation consequent to a custodial sentence would be impossible. This assessment should only be made upon consideration of expert evidence”.