An Important Hour
Reminiscent feelings never seemed more confused as when I walked up to the High Court. Looking out once again onto its stately architecture, the memories of 2008 swept before me in the most unusual way. I was filled with a sense that the memories of that summer, although present and real, were not quite memories at all, or at least, not what I thought a memory to be. It was as if time had not elapsed, as if the then was also the now. Before, I had viewed memory as a sort of passive recollection, an act of nostalgia, something that is no longer an active agent in life. Here, however, the memories of 2008 seemed a living continuation of something yet to be finished. Not merely a stagnant remembrance, but something very much alive. The then was just as the now, I clumsily gathered to myself, because the full arch of the story here has yet to be written. Work still needs doing. The story needs finishing.
Joined by Sean, I walked onward not quite sure of what was running through my mind, but eager to get to Justice Lugayizi's chambers. I was anxious to see him, and anxious to introduce Sean to this wonderful man. I hold few people in higher esteem. He has a transparent goodness about him, and for the people of Uganda, he is an indispensable jurist. Two characteristics, wholly uncommon in this part of the world, have marked his tenure in the law: integrity and courage. His conviction has sometimes got him into trouble from fellow judges and even the President of Uganda, yet he remains one of the most respected and trusted judges in the judiciary. Quite boldly, I count coming to know him as one of God's greatest acts of grace in my life. I have learned so much from his example, and I have come to admire him immensely.
At the entrance to his chambers, I knocked and slowly pushed forward the heavy wooden door. I peered around with a big smile. He stood up from behind his desk and approached. A large grin came across his face. I broke protocol and unreservedly went in for a hug. I deemed this entirely appropriate since during the last visit, he teased me for being "too English." I was ready to dispel any sense of English stoicism right from the start. "Greer (pronounced Grey-arrr)," he said in his rhythmic Ugandan cadence, "It is so good to see you. You are most welcome back!"
His chambers looked just as when I last left. Everything was just as immaculately kept as it had always been kept by him. The same furniture filled out the room. The layout was the same. "You have really come at an important hour," he said as we found our seats, "The seeds of plea bargaining were sown during your last trip here, now the field must be tended." The statement excited me, invoking that primal desire of the challenge, but it also caused me to step back and begin posing some sober questions to myself: How exactly does one tend to a field not knowing if the seed planted will produce a weed or a cherished crop? By what means will this tending occur? What strategies should be employed? What procedures implemented? Cautiously, I determined that for now "tending" meant following the ancient advice of Aristotle who said: "Those who wish to succeed must ask the right preliminary questions." So, I spent the remainder of the week asking questions. I gathered and assembled all of the information I could through interviews with the key players involved in the implementation of plea bargaining here.
This is what I now know: Plea bargaining's implementation has been brief and highly informal to date yet it has yielded some very encouraging results. Justice Lugayizi and Justice Albert Rugadya, a colleague in the Criminal Division, took the initiative to be the first judges to permit plea bargaining's application. In their two criminal sessions, Justice Lugayizi was able to dispose of nineteen out of his twenty-two cases without trial (nine by pleas of guilty, ten dismissed under "nolle prosequi"), and Justice Rugadya was able to process fifty cases in just twenty days. Equally so, they abided by policies that do much to guard against the introduction of corruption and do much to prevent any infringement upon the rights of the accused; but, improvements do need to be considered. At the request of Justice Lugayizi, I am now preparing a report that will provide recommendations for how best to move forward, and improve upon what has already been done.
The report must be completed in short order, as in two weeks, I am to travel with Justice Lugayizi southward to the town of Masaka, and be on hand as he conducts his next criminal session of forty-nine cases. The town is located directly on the equator and is just west of Lake Victoria. It was largely destroyed in the 1970's and 1980's during the wars for power that followed Uganda's independence from the British. Only just recently have the inhabitants begun to bring the city back to its former self. It is a place marred in the memories of then, and here in the now, the implementation of plea bargaining will take its next step on the long march toward full formalization.
In Uganda, memory is not merely an ode to the past. It is an active agent, touching the present unmistakably and blurring the distinctions of time. The then and the now flow together like two violent rivers, and from out of the confluence an inimitable rushing voice can be heard. The crashing waters declare: "Work needs doing."
Greer Illingworth, JD '10