n African Human Rights Law Journal - Why the Supreme Court of Uganda should reject the Constitutional Court's understanding of imprisonment for life

Volume 8, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1609-073X
  • E-ISSN: 1996-2096



The issue of life imprisonment is always a contentious one. Some people argue that life imprisonment should mean what it means, namely 'whole-life'. In Uganda, life imprisonment continues to mean imprisonment of 20 years. However, in 2005 the Constitutional Court ruled that life imprisonment should mean 'the whole of a person's life'. This decision is not yet law, because the particular case is on appeal before the Supreme Court, which will either uphold the Constitutional Court's ruling or not. This article deals with the constitutionality of long prison sentences that the Constitutional Court suggested could be imposed to avoid prisoners being released after 20 years. It also argues that the Supreme Court should reject the Constitutional Court's ruling that life imprisonment should mean the whole of the prisoner's life. The human rights and administrative implications of 'whole-life' imprisonment are discussed in detail to support the view that life imprisonment should remain as is, that is, 20 years in prison. The author draws inspiration from other domestic jurisdictions and international law to support his argument. In particular, the author looks at jurisprudence from Germany, South Africa, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the International Criminal Court and the European Court of Human Rights. Where applicable, the views of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights are highlighted.

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