Monday June 2 2014

Judicial officers root for harmonised laws in EAC

By Olive Eyotaru & Stephen Kafeero

Judicial officers from East Africa are pushing for the harmonisation of sentencing guidelines to set uniform legal standards within the region.

Speaking at a meeting of lawyers from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda at the weekend, Justice Lawrence Gidudu, the president of the East African Magistrates and Judges Association, said there were still inconsistencies in sentencing, especially in relation to capital offences.

“For similar crimes, it should be predictable. It should be consistent because we are applying the same common law, except for Rwanda, which is gradually moving to this. The issue is to have same standards and that is one of the objectives of the EAC,” Justice Gidudu said.

Uganda is the first East African country to come up with the guidelines, which were launched by former Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki in June last year.
Kenya and Tanzania are yet to draft the guidelines while Rwanda is in the final stages of developing hers.

The sentencing guidelines in Uganda were formulated as a result of a number of disparities which include lack of consistency and certainty that are registered while sentencing convicts.

Justice Gidudu noted that public outcry over inconsistencies in sentencing has placed the Judiciary in bad light, with accusations of bribery thrown at some judicial officials.

“Once the public sees that the sentences are different, the public tends to think that there was corruption, Justice Gidudu said.

Dr Livingstone Ssewanyana, Executive Director of Foundation for Human Rights (FHRI) said the challenge is that within the judiciary, there is still discretion on rulings, which in turn may not promote uniformity in sentencing.

“One of the cardinal principles in administration of justice is to ensure a right to a fair trial. This means that in similar circumstances, a judicial officer will give the same sentence to avoid the limitation of arbitrariness,” Dr Ssewanyana stressed.

Justice Gidudu revealed that the judiciary is to carry out a random assessment in October to establish whether the courts have achieved consistency in sentencing.