Criminal Law

Criminal law is a set of laws used to punish people whose conduct is considered to be a danger to society, property, life, morality, or safety. Since criminal law is a body of laws relating to society, the government or state takes responsibility for the trial of these offenses. All cases are brought in the name of Uganda or the state, e.g. Uganda vs John Friday Opego.

Children who are below the age of 12 are considered in criminal law to be too young to understand to be responsible for their actions and, therefore, cannot commit a criminal offense.

The person suspected of committing the crime is often referred to as the “accused”. The accused in every criminal matter is given an opportunity to defend themselves in court by providing evidence to challenge the charges made against them. The accused also has the right to remain silent because the Constitution declares every accused innocent until proved guilty.

In criminal cases, it is for the Government through the State Prosecutor or State Attorney to prove the case against the accused person in a court of law.

The Prosecutor/Attorney uses witnesses and exhibits in court to prove the case. The evidence must be strong enough not to leave a doubt in the mind of the Judge or Magistrate that the accused is the person who committed the offense. The Magistrate/Judge listens to both the arguments of the prosecution and the defense before he/she makes up his mind as to whether the accused is guilty or not.

Criminal Administration of Justice

The purpose of the criminal administration of justice is to determine if a person commited the crime that they have been charged with. When the court finds the person guilty of committing a crime, the court usually can punish him in four ways:

  1. Imprisonment
  2. Fines
  3. Community service (or a combination of 1 & 2 as determined by law)
  4. Caution

Thus the main purpose of criminal justice is to punish the guilty person. A crime starts at the point at which it is committed. A person who is the victim of the crime or witness or anyone who suspects a crime has been committed or is about to be committed can report the crime. He or she becomes the complainant in a criminal matter. Ordinarily, a case should be reported to the nearest police station to allow the Police to act fast.

Once a criminal case is reported, the case is investigated by the Police. The Police will send the file to the Resident State Attorney (RSA). The RSA is the lawyer of the Government. S/he is the representative from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution. S/he makes the decision whether the accused person shall appear before a Magistrate for prosecution or not.

Possible Outcomes of a Criminal Case

Several outcomes may result from a criminal case. These include:

  • The case can be denied approval for prosecution by the ODPP especially where there is not enough evidence; This means the file will not be approved and, therefore, it will not go to court. The ODPP is the only one who can allow or approve a criminal case to go to court.
  • The accused may be released on bond by the police pending further investigationor appearance in court.
  • The accused may be released on bail by the court pending completion of a case.
  • The accused may be found guilty and sentenced to a prison term or to both aprison term and a fine.
  • The accused may be found guilty and sentenced to a caution, in which case hewill be free to go home.
  • The accused may be declared not guilty and accordingly is set free.

It’s important to note that in criminal cases the Government has the responsibility for the case. Your role is to report the case to the police. You do not have to pay any money to the Police, ODPP or the Judge. You can only help your case by assisting the police in the investigation of the case and also as a witness in court. As a witness, you only cater for your transport costs to court and upkeep.

In some cases, the victim, or witness or community may not agree with the outcome of the criminal case. There are many reasons why a person may not be sent to prison. Some of these have been discussed here. Under no circumstances should anyone take the law into their hands to give punishment. Taking the law in your hand to punish a person in these circumstances is a criminal offense that may lead to imprisonment on conviction.

If the case is not aggravated or serious, then the suspect can be released on police bond but if it is serious then the police may not release a suspect on Police bond.

Aggravated or serious offences include: defilement, rape, murder, man slaughter and robbery where a lethal weapon like a gun or knife is used and someone has ether died or has been severely injured Simple criminal offences include: Theft of chicken, goats or sheep and fighting in a bar.

The law demands that a suspect held by the Police must be brought to a court not longer than 48 hours from the time of arrest.