Members of Parliament on the Committee on Human Rights have expressed varying opinions on the continued use of video conferencing in the Courts of law.
While meeting officials from the Uganda Prisons Service (UPS) led by the Commissioner General, Dr Johnson Byabashaija on allegations of human rights violations on Friday, 11 March 2022, Hon. Francis Mwijukye (FDC, Buhweju County) wondered why prison authorities have not resumed arraigning prisoners physically before courts of law putting into consideration that Covid-19 threat is now minimal.
“Physical appearances in court help prisoners psychologically; the process of taking and returning them helps the prisoners get some life outside the precincts of prison,” Mwijukye said.
He said whereas the application of virtual court appearances was understandable at the peak of the pandemic, it has now been abused thus resulting to some sort of torture and human right violation.
Toroma County MP, Hon. Andrew Koluo said o video conferencing has at times been affected by poor network connections which disrupt and distort court proceedings.
“Sometimes the accused end up mentioning things they do not understand and they are victimized for that simply because they have not heard what the judge or magistrate is asking them due to poor network,” Koluo said.
He supported the proposal to resume physical court appearance because it also enables the accused or witnesses to meet their families.
However, Hon. Rose Obiga (NRM, Terego District) urged the MPs to embrace virtual conferencing because “it is the future.”
The committee chairperson, Hon. Fox Odoi also endorsed virtual court proceedings saying it is becoming fashionable worldwide due to advancements in technology.
Byabashaija said that whereas the virtual conferencing system is a good cost-saving measure, it is only applicable upon the request of the court.
“Every financial year, I request for funds to take prisoners to court which is very expensive, but we have never got what we request for. So virtual courts are a good cost-saving measure and I wish we could do it more often,” Byabashaija said.
During the meeting, Byabashaija handed over a list of 94 prisoners whom they have admitted with injuries between January 2020 and January 2022. He explained that only eight out of the 94 prisoners signed affidavits detailing how they got the injuries, while the 86 declined because ‘they were only comfortable speaking to Uganda Human Rights Commission’.
Fox Odoi said that it is likely that the victims who did not sign affidavits were tortured by other security agencies and fear dire consequences that may arise from their confessions.
Byabashaija explained that the majority of the inmates with injuries were victims of mob justice. He added that prison authorities only stop at treating the victims without asking them how they acquired the injuries.
Asked to update the committee about the condition of the incarcerated MPs, Allan Ssewanyana (Makindye West) and Muhammed Ssegirinya (Kawempe North), Byabashaija said that the two are in good condition as compared to when they received them.
“We treat honourables like honourables. We don’t treat them like ordinary people. Those who have come to see them can confirm that their body mass index has increased tremendously from the time when we received them,” he said.