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24-25.09.18 – First trial hearing

SUMMARY OF HEARINGS

1. Stakeholders meeting

On 24 September 2018, the trial panel met with the various stakeholders before the commencement of the proceedings. This interaction session aimed at informing the public about the conduct of the trial, to answer questions, and to receive recommendations from the stakeholders.

One honorable Justice started by giving a background of the Kwoyelo case before setting the standards which have to be met by the panel while conducting the trial:

  • Conduct a fair trial within a reasonable time, with full respect of the rights of the accused and due regard for the protection of the victims, witnesses, children, women and all other vulnerable persons ;
  • Provide for disclosure of documents ;
  • Ensure adequate preparation for the trial ;
  • Appoint assessors on terms and conditions as the court may decide ;

She concluded by stressing the importance of governement and stakeholders’ support because of the trial’s specificity.

The meeting was followed by an interaction session, during which the civil society raised a number of questions as to the estimated length of the trial, the court’s degree of preparation to victims’ participation, the measures put in place to ensure the protection of witnesses, and the provision of psychosocial support to the victims among others.

In response, one Justice pointed out that altough everyone is yearning for an expeditious trial, the case involves a lot of issues which must all be addressed,  and ground rules which are to be set during a status conference. He noted that the prosecution alone had over 120 witnesses which could take 2-3 years, that the defense would require approximately one year and that the victims counsel would also need time to ensure participation of the victims. This latter aspect would further require the creation and implementation of new procedures. Lastly the court emphasized that although there was no law on witness protection in Uganda, the court had devised means of ensuring the safety of witnesses and victims.

2. Status Conference
The status conference started an hour late because there was no interpreter. The purpose of the conference was to ensure the proper planning of the case, and to set down the rules in order to ensure a speedy trial. It was pointed out that the reading of the indictment and taking plea would take two days.

The Defense counsel informed the court that the accused had not been given anything to eat from the time he was brought to court and that the prison authorities had also denied his family access to visit him. One of the Justice therefore required Kwoyelo to be given his meal at the court instead of prisons. The defense also noted that they were served with the translated indictment just a few minutes before the status conference, depriving the accused of the chance to read and understand the charges brought against him.

The prosecution and the victims counsel confirmed to have taken all the steps required and to be ready for the plea taking, but the latter pointed out that they needed guidance on the status of the victims’ applications for participation, adding that 94 presumed victims were waiting for the trial. The counsel stressed that prosecution ought to disclose all its evidence so as to enable them to know victims with dual status of victim and witness.

Since the ICD Registry guidelines that provide for victims’ participation had not yet been adopted, the counsel invited the court to allow or enable the application of interim standards. He concluded by requesting facilitation to reach out to the victims on a regular basis so as to enable them to represent the views of the victims before the court.

The trial panel concluded that a lot of disclosure had been done and that the accused was not entirely unaware of the case against him or the evidence that prosecution was going to lead. Therefore, the court ordered that the plea taking process begin.

The matter was adjourned to the morning after for the plea taking process.

3. Plea Taking
On Tuesday 25 September, the trial began with the plea taking. As the process commenced, the accused’s lawyer raised objections to the entire processs arguing that the translation was insufficient, that the number of charges brought against the accused were improper, and that the he had not been given the opportunity to go through the translated indictment since they had been served late. The Prosecution dismissed the arguments, and the proceedings were adjourned.

Upon resuming, the trial panel noted that Article 28 (3) (f) of the 1995 constitution provides the right to the assistance of an interpreter for every person who is charged with a criminal offense and that A.28 (3) (c) provides the right to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his or her defense.

For those reasons, the trial panel agreed with the defense that the accused was not given sufficient time to prepare his defense before taking plea.

In their rulling, the trial panel made the following orders;

  • That a properly translated indictment be served on the accused and also on the other parties by 2 October 2018.
  • That the Registrar ensured the facilitation of the defense to prepare its defense not later than 12 October 2018.

The case was adjourned to 5 November 2018 while the accused was further remanded into custody.

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