‘Children in conflict with the law’ is defined as anyone under 18 who comes into contact with the justice system as a result of being suspected or accused of committing an offence. Who is a child? A child is every person below 18 years. In Uganda, every child from 12 years and above can be held liable for any criminal act.
A person who thinks he or she is aggrieved by actions of a child, which may be civil or criminal, may report the matter to any of the following institutions:
- FAMILY OF THE CHILD (MEDIATION)
- THE LOCAL COUNCIL COURTS (LCC)
- THE UGANDA POLICE FORCE (CFPU UNIT)
- THE COURTS OF JUDICATURE (Family and Children Court (FCC), High Court)
In this article we will have a closer look at the option of getting in contact with the Uganda Police Force (CFPU)
What steps does a person take to lodge a complaint with the police?
- A complaint can be made to any nearest police station by walking to the counter desk and informing the officer in charge of the purpose of the visit.
- First information and statement of the complainant will be recorded down in the criminal record book (CRB) and a reference number will be generated and given to the complainant for record purposes.
- A police file will be opened up and the OC/CID will allocate the same to an investigating officer (IO) for further investigations.
- The investigating officer may summon the accused or visit his/her home to record statements, take exhibits among others.
- After investigations the OC/CID may recommend mediation, send the file to CFPU for handling or forward the file to the state attorney (court) depending on the nature of the offence, age of the accused and evidence available.
- Police should respect the personal rights and dignity of all children and have regard to their vulnerability, that is, take account of their age and maturity and any special needs of those who may be under a physical or mental disability or have communication difficulties.
- The child should be informed in a manner and in language that is appropriate to his or her age and level of understanding of the reason for which he or she has been taken into custody.
- The child should be provided with access to a lawyer and be given the opportunity to contact their parents, guardians or a person whom they trust.
- Parent(s) should be informed of the child’s presence at the police station, given details of the reason why the child has been taken into custody and be asked to come to the station.
- Should not be questioned in respect of criminal behavior, or asked to make or sign a statement concerning such involvement, except in the presence of a lawyer or one of the child’s parents or guardian.
- Ensure that no child in their custody is detained together with adults.
- Ensure that children in police custody are kept in conditions that are safe and appropriate to their needs.
- Child-friendly approaches should be adhered to throughout the investigation process.
- The Police are ordinarily the first point of contact for a child within the formal justice system.
- As far as possible all cases involving children in conflict with the law should be handled by the CFPU.
- Officers in CFPU are required to dress in plain clothes, use child friendly language and liaise with either the parents/guardians of the child, the probation and social welfare officer and LCs.
- After a complainant has filed a case, an arrest is not to be made until enough information is obtained to support the case. A record of the arrest should be made by the police.
- Where a child is arrested, the police shall under justifiable circumstances caution and release the child. The police are empowered to dispose of cases at their discretion without recourse to formal court hearings in accordance with criteria to be laid down by the Inspector General of Police.
- As soon as possible after arrest, the child’s parents or guardians and the secretary for children’s affairs of the local government council for the area in which the child resides shall be informed of the arrest by the police.
- The number of interviews should be as limited as possible and their length should be adapted to the child’s age and attention span.
- Release the child on police bond unless such release will expose the child to danger of mob justice or defeat the end of justice.
- If police bond is not granted, a child shall be detained in police custody for a maximum of twenty-four hours or until the child is taken before a court, whichever is sooner.
- Children should be detained separately from adults while in police custody.
- Serious cases should be referred to the prosecution department and lesser offences can be handled through other means like mediation.
What role does Justice Centres Uganda play in ensuring a child-friendly justice system for juvenile offenders?
- Mediation of matters that can be settled outside court, at LCC or at family level
- Provision of free legal representation in courts of law
- Ensuring other institutions observe children rights especially those in detention like at police through outreaches and follow-ups.
- Refer cases to other legal aid service providers and specialized support institutions
International treaties and standards
- The United Nations Guidelines for Action on Children in the Criminal Justice System 1997
- The United Nations Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency (Riyadh Guidelines) 1990
- The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Non-custodial Measures (Tokyo Rules) 1990
- United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (Beijing Rules) 1985
- The 1995 Constitution of Uganda
- The Children (Amendment) Act 2016
- The Penal Code Act Cap 120
- The Local Council Courts Act 2006
- The Children (Family and Children Court) Rules SI 59-1
- The Judicature (Criminal Procedure) (Applications) Rules SI 13-8
- The Probation (Probation Committees) (Constitution and Duties) Rules SI 122
- The Sentencing Guidelines Practice Directions 2013
- The Local Council Courts Rules 2007