Post by: Alexa Kathol
For my first assignment working for the Center for Global Justice, I researched whether technology is permissible in Ugandan criminal trials and, if so, what policies and procedures govern the use of courtroom technology.
This research product was designed for the International Justice Mission (IJM), an organization dedicated to collaborating with nations’ judicial systems and community leaders to respond effectively to injustices. IJM’s mission is to protect people in poverty from violence by rescuing victims, bringing criminals to justice, restoring survivors to safety and strength, and helping local law enforcement build a stable, safe future.
Throughout my research, I learned that since 2016, Uganda has created technological measures to make it easier for witnesses to give evidence without physically appearing in court. Although lawmakers recognize the advantage of in-person testimony, they also acknowledge that sometimes exigent circumstances can warrant an exception. For example, children may testify via audio-visual links if it may be too traumatizing for them to testify in front of the courtroom. Similarly, witnesses with disabilities preventing them from testifying in-person may testify by use of video. Although most countries have exceptions for understandable situations like these, a new challenge presented before the court is what to do amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March 2020, Uganda suspended all court hearings and appearances. Instead, parties were advised to file written submissions. The court had to find a way to quickly adapt to the situation, and by April 2020, prisoners and remandees presented themselves before the court via video conferencing. The court decided to proceed with this measure to ensure speedy trials, reduce litigation costs, and alleviate health and safety concerns.
Although these courtroom technological advances are a good starting point, Uganda still has room for improvement. Although it has ratified the Roman Statute of the International Criminal Court, it has yet to model some key aspects set forth in the Rules of Procedures of Evidence. One feature Uganda has not explicitly adopted is an exception for witnesses at risk of harm. In the International Criminal Court, those types of witnesses may testify via electronic or other special means, including picture or voice altercation to protect their identity. Additionally, a pseudonym may be used for a victim, a witness, or another person at risk for a witness’s testimony. Thus, they allow testimony to be presented via live stream or a pre-recorded taping.
I am grateful to the Center for Global Justice for this project. This task not only challenged my research skills, but my ability to synthesize information and organize it in a way that would be most helpful to its readers. Through it, my love for international law, upholding human rights, and making the world a better place has been solidified.
This post was written by a Center for Global Justice Student Staff member. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of Regent University, Regent Law School, or the Center for Global Justice.