Justice is for sale in Northern Uganda – New research report

Corruption in the police and courts in northern Uganda has become a “system” and a norm, a new research report has shown.

The research, titled Facilitation in the Criminal Justice System: A Systems Analysis in the Police and Courts in Northern Uganda, was conducted by researchers from the Institute for Human Security at Tufts University, in the US, with assistance from Ugandan researchers.

Presenting the findings at the offices of the Democratic Governance Facility in Kampala, the lead researchers, Cheyanne Scharbatke-Church and Diana Chigas, said the perception that justice must be paid for has diminished people’s trust in courts and the police in northern Uganda.

The study that was carried out in March and April 2014 in Gulu and Lira districts, also shows that ordinary people engage in corruption (in form of bribe giving and taking) as a means of accessing the police and courts to pursue justice or to manipulate it for private gain. The elite engage in it to maintain their position and power, while the police and court officials do it as a means of survival and to pay for operating expenses.

Prof. Cheyanne said several respondents stated that they do not reject demands for bribes unless they run out of money.

She added: “When we asked respondents whether they think corruption would reduce if salaries of police and court officers were increased, they generally smiled and laughed at us and then said no.”

Other reasons citizens gave for giving bribes include fear of being trapped in the criminal justice system, uncertainty and helplessness, and lack of knowledge of the laws and procedures used by police and courts. This, the report states, makes citizens vulnerable to manipulation, among others.

“The perception that justice is for sale creates tremendous lack of trust in the police and court, as well as uncertainty about where justice can be obtained, all of which fuel the prevalence of bribery and create a barrier to justice,” the report notes.

Ms Teddy Atim, one of the researchers, said there is anger, especially among poor people who have to pay for justice when they need it.

Interviews conducted with police and court officers show that they engage in corruption due to resource constraints, limited oversight in curbing the vice, social pressure, and the normalisation of corruption.

“Corruption has become so habitual among the police and judicial officers that it is now normal behavior…Police or judges who refuse to engage in corruption may be ostracised personally and/or suffer professional consequences (e.g. being transferred). This serves to further strengthen the normalization of corruption…), the research reveals further.

Ms Juliet Hatanga, a magistrate who was part of the research team, gave an example of a magistrate posted away from family and working without pay for months. She said such a person is susceptible to taking a bribe to survive.

Interestingly, the researchers revealed female court and police officials frequently shun corruption.

The researchers said 111 respondents were interviewed, including 57 men and 42 women, while the gender of 12 interviewees was not documented. Some of the interviews (21) were also carried out in Kampala. The categories of people interviewed included, ordinary citizens, criminal justice sector actors (police and courts), actors related to the criminal justice sector (e.g. lawyers, civil society) and international donors. The interviews were drawn from both rural and urban settings.

The researchers have carried out a similar study in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Facilitation in the Criminal Justice System by African Centre for Media Excellence