In this article, without sounding like a lawyer, I’m going to try and explain shortly the basic principle that the justice/judicial system operates on. This writing is prompted by the numerous complaints/issues that I hear being raised genuinely or/and innocently by various people over and about the justice system.
These questions are;
1. As a lawyer if a person comes to you and confesses that they have committed a crime, would you go ahead and defend them? Is that not immoral/unjust/wrong? All you care about is money you morons.
2. How can the judge release this man/woman who was arrested red handed (Infragranto delicto) or/and who has confessed to having committed the crime? You see? Courts are useless, they simply serve those in power. They have been bribed.
Chapter eight, 8 of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda spanning from article 126 to 151 establishes courts and sets the record for the appointment of judicial officers and how they operate. I however promised not to make this writing so legalese. You may want however to read that chapter if you have to understand how courts are founded in Uganda.
Courts have a long history but we know there were times when the sovereigns, kings, Presidents would also double as judges, we know of the times when religious leaders were the judges and also elders individually or in councils have played this role severally. We now however have a system of an independent judicial system for arbitration and recourse.
Now let me say this as I return to the point in question/issue. Courts are not based on the goodness of man. What do I mean? Courts exist because man is believed to be a liar, and also ignorant! Let me land. Look at these scenarios;
a) If today you kill somebody, then after doing so, you run to police, and say; “Please arrest, and sentence me. I just killed A.” Police would have to investigate and present you to court, and you will have an option of a lawyer, and then court will make a ruling. In the language of courts, in process of this probe, you will be referred to as a “suspect” until you are convicted.
b) If a person steals from a vendor of eggs in broad day light when everyone is seeing, then people attempt to deal with them through mob justice or even simply report them to Police, and then in preparation of the case, no one shows up to adduce evidence against them, the Police is obligated to release them, and this is many a time what happens.
So what is the point?
In scenario A, someone may ask, this is a murderer, who has even confessed, why should do we even waste time? They should just be punished! My brother, my sister under the law we do not know that and here is why! Whereas it is known perhaps to this person, and maybe to other people around them that they in deed committed the crime, the law does not know that. You and I do not know that! What if the person confessing is insane? What if another person perhaps richer or more powerful, committed the crime, and either coerced or bought this person to stand in for them? Have you not seen people who cause accidents, when they perhaps do not have driving permits and then they switch positions in the car, and another person stands in for them? Remember we said, courts exist due to the belief that man is deceptive! In short, we do not take the face value of what someone says when there is a case. Simply because there are very many interests and motivations.
This is why children will fight, and tell you two different accounts about the same scenario. But why you take time to listen to them, is because through interrogation, since you have more knowledge than them, you can decipher and tell who is telling lies, who caused the problem and decide what to do. This is precisely what a judge does.
What I’m saying is, since man is crooked, and may not speak the truth, whenever there is an issue in question, through the court system we have chosen not to take what they say on the face value. But to, based on evidence and interrogation let the judge listen to both sides, and then make a judgement. We do this from a position of believing the judge is fair, knowledgeable and just. This is why judges must be above reproach. For purposes of ensuring there is an understanding of the law and rights, both sides have lawyers to make their cases.
In scenario number two, why your “thief” and our “suspect” is released is because of almost the same reason, whereas you know, and perhaps witnessed the person stealing, we did not, the law did not, and remember we agreed as a nation that if somebody is accused of having committed a crime, under Article twenty eight, 28, we hold them to be innocent until proven guilty. One is not a criminal before being convicted in court, one is a suspect. The police cannot therefore go ahead to keep the person in custody if no one comes up to adduce evidence about their alleged crime. Your “He was caught red handed” is important if you come to court and say so. Otherwise, the authorities are not angels to know what happened.
This is the same reason why suspects are given bail. Do not say, “You see? The murderer or the minister who stole has been released! I told you they would not do anything.” That they have been released does not mean they are off the hook. When police puts you in detention over an issue in court. Your detention is not a punishment. It is simply meant to facilitate the process of establishing the truth. Therefore if we are sure, you will not run away or your being in circulation will not affect the investigations or court process, all these in the estimation of the judge or police, then you can be released and the case be handled when you are out. It would be different if a person who is sentenced is released!
In all these, I know, and I’m not suggesting that the system is perfect, and that there are no cases when there is sufficient evidence adduced for and against or not adduced for and against and then courts, lawyers or police act arbitrarily. Of course not, these are human beings and they are at times, as imperfect as we all are. My point however is on the principle. We should work on our values, building systems, and holding our officers the judges, lawyers, and police to high standards, we should however, understand the core principle upon which what transpires is based and support it. This is because tomorrow, we could easily become victims.
The argument is that, we would rather release 100 criminals than punish one innocent person. Imagine a situation where courts sentence without evidence but simply because somebody said A, did such and such. I could easily walk to police and say you stole such and such, and swear that we caught you red handed, and parade some five people to adduce so and then you are sentenced. It is however hard for me to do so because I know there is a probe that will most likely unearth the lie. Well some times in the process people fail to sustain truths, where the person on the right cause loses the case because they fail to prove but like I said, what is the alternative? We can only base on proof.