When does a case fall under criminal law? - Justice Centres Uganda
criminal case

When does a case fall under 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.

Function of a State Prosecutor or State Attorney

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

The role of the Police

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 investigation or 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 a prison term and a fine.
  • The accused may be found guilty and sentenced to a caution, in which case he will 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.

Further readings:

What happens when a family member/ friend has been arrested by the police?

Why is mob justice an illegal and wrong way of handling child/juvenile offenders?

I feel aggrieved by a neighbours child criminal activity – what happens if I report to the police?

What can I do if I become a witness of mob justice?

Source: Judicial Service Commission: A Citizen’s Handbook on Law and Administration of Justice in Uganda. 4th Edition