Legal Awareness Sessions - Simple but Significant
We provide in-house training for prisoners and prison staff to become auxiliary paralegals, advocates and peer educators. This means they can provide accessible legal services to those who need them most. Often this takes the form of legal awareness sessions.
Most of the prisoners APP works with are held on remand in overcrowded conditions, awaiting trial, without a lawyer. This simple access to justice can have a significant impact on their release or sentencing, which ensures that they can return to their families or businesses as soon as possible. And relieve a congested prison system.
During October, APP Uganda held a total of 76 legal awareness sessions across 29 prisons with an attendance of 5,332 prisoners (4,962 men and 370 women).
Through these events prisoners are empowered to argue their cases from an informed perspective. With legal information and support from APP’s auxiliary paralegals, many prisoners become their own advocates and are able to defend themselves in court. This enables them to obtain bail, have their cases dismissed, or receive reduced sentences due to convincing mitigation.
With the support of APP’s auxiliary paralegals, 240 inmates (224 men and 16 women) were released on bail. 196 inmates had cases against them dismissed, 64 inmates were granted community service, and 40 inmates were reconciled with their complainants.
Back in Prison - Illegally
Okello Bosco was held on remand in Apac Prison accused of dealing in stolen goods.
“Back at home, I owned a small business of roasting pork. One day I bought a pig. Later, a lady came around claiming the pig to be hers. I refused to hand it back and went ahead to slaughter since I had paid for it. The lady returned with police and that started my journey that led me to Apac Prison.”
On 21st September 2018, Okello was convicted and sentenced to 5 months in prison or payment of a significant fine. He could not afford to pay the fine and was sent to Apac Prison.
Behind the scenes, he stayed in contact with court officials and his mother raised the money needed for paying the fine. Okello returned to Court on 4th October 2018. Part payment was calculated and Okello was released.
Unfortunately, the officer in charge of Apac Prison was not at the station at the time Okello was being taken to court. On learning that one of his prisoners had been released without his signature on the release form, he summoned for Okello’s re-arrest. The prison officers arrested him 6th October without notifying the magistrate. Ignorant of the law, Okello stayed in prison for almost another 3 weeks.
One evening he approached Matsiko Brian, our auxiliary paralegal, after he had conducted an awareness session. This marked the beginning of journey to his freedom again.
The paralegal officer approached the Magistrate on behalf of Okello. He explained the circumstances under which Okello had found himself back in prison. The Magistrate was surprised that Okello was in prison. He said that was illegal since he had signed the release warrant and did not expect him to be in prison again. He immediately drafted another letter instructing the officer in charge to release Okello from prison. The officer responded and Okello was released again after being illegally imprisoned.
When we visited Okello with Matsiko at his work place in Temogo town, he was a very happy man and was back to his work doing well. “I really thank APP and Matsiko for the endless efforts they have invested into prisoners to see that we access justice. With your help, I returned home. I could never have known I was being held illegally. My children are now going to school normally and I am happy to work so as to provide for them.”
At Machakos Women’s Prison, near Nairobi in Kenya, their legal awareness session was led by APP’s Legal Aid Manager, John Muthuri. It was attended by 40 women from within the prison and focused on the law of evidence.
Many inmates raised concerns are about not being aware of the evidence presented against them when appearing in court. Inmates were taken through the different types of evidence and heard about their rights to remove or challenge evidence against them. They also heard what the court means by ‘useful evidence’ and how it can be used for them or against them with reference to the Kenyan constitution.
“I wish I got this information earlier. I did not do my defense during trial because I was shaking and was unable to say anything. I wish those of us here who are still doing their cases would take this sessions seriously,” Mary Moraa.
“My case is at its defense stage. Today, I have gotten points in which I can use in my defense. I keep getting enlightened with each awareness session which is really helping me in my trial process,” Anastacia Nthambi.
One of Kenya’s auxiliary paralegals Priscilla Cherono shares a story -
“I met my client Lillian on the 8th of March 2018 during a legal awareness session. She had been a servant charged with the offence of theft. She was very devastated, desperate and also sickly.
On the day of the awareness session, she told me what had led to her imprisonment. I advised her to try Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) but when she tried to call the complainants, they did not want to listen to her. They said the only thing they needed was the money that she owed to them but Lilian could not afford the amount at the time.
I decided to draft a production order for Lilian requesting witness statements which was granted. I embarked on teaching her how she would tackle the area of cross examination, whilst also insisting that she kept on trying to talk to the complainant.
Finally, she was able to convince the complainant when she offered to pay part of the money and the complainant withdrew the case.
I was very excited to hear the news because I had gotten to know Lilian and I knew how much the release meant to her.”
Providing Access to Justice Behind Bars
Without the possibility of justice, many prisoners lose hope. Trapped in an unfamiliar and intimidating prison system, they don’t know how to make their voice heard.
Through legal awareness sessions, legal training and studying the law, we see prisoners accessing justice for themselves and those around them. Empowered to engage with the system that imprisoned them they are the ones to make, shape and implement the law. Our changemakers.
Support our work and you can become a changemaker too!