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"We are not Idiots and Lunatics" A Quest for Justice for Persons with Mental Disabilities in Uganda

 

Persons with disabilities, generally, often face discrimination and marginalization in their pursuit of access to justice. The same is much worse for persons with mental disabilities (PWMD) who are in most cases not able to understand the criminal procedures, and might have committed the crime while unaware and have to interface with a criminal justice system whose archaic and outdated laws contain discriminatory provisions. 

Hence, this policy brief extracts the findings of the research that was undertaken to unearth and analyse the response of the criminal justice system to persons with mental disabilities. It high lights the limitations of the different legal safeguards and government strategies  that seeks to protect and promote the rights of persons with disabilities in conflict with the law.

The research methodology was majorly qualitative involving desk review and field interviews in with purposively selected key informants. The study findings indicate that many of the justice actors, judicial officers, prosecutors, had limited experience handling cases involving persons with mental disabilities.

The findings also evidence the biases against persons with mental disabilities that perpetuate discrimination and stigma and impacts on how justice actors will respond to criminal cases involving persons with mental disabilities. PWMD caught up in the criminal justice system remain forgotten for many reasons including inordinate delays waiting on the Minister’s order, lack of access to legal representation, and inconclusive medical reports on their status.

The recommendations made include reform of the laws relating to trial process of  PWMD, creating a PWD court friendly enviroment equipped with personnel skilled in special needs of PWMDs, enhancing social support systems and buttressing community awareness of PWD rights to reduce social stigma and discrimination