UK lawyers aid Ugandan U-turn on death penalty

Simons Muirhead & Bur-ton and a silk from Doughty Street Chambers have been instrumental in overturning the mandatory death penalty in Uganda and saving the lives of more than 400 people.

Simons Muirhead partners Saul Lehrfreund and Parvais Jabbar, alongside Doughty’s Keir Starmer QC, acted pro bono in assisting Ugandan firm Katende Ssempebwa & Co on the mammoth class action case.

Last week the Ugandan Constitutional Court handed down a judgment ruling that the death penalty for murder and other offences was unconstitutional.

The ruling sets aside the sentence of 417 prisoners currently on death row in Uganda. Those who have been on death row for more than three years will have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment, while prisoners who have served less than three years will be resentenced.

Katende Ssempebwa asked Simons Muirhead for help following similar work the UK firm had undertaken in the Caribbean, where the mandatory death penalty in eight jurisdictions, including Trinidad, has been overturned.

The firm has also become involved in a similar case in Nigeria.

Jabbar said: “If you look at the movement and the trends around the world, we were hopeful that, if you applied the law properly, this would be the decision.”

He added that the team’s greatest challenge was in transposing law that had been used in other jurisdictions to East Africa.

“The lawyers on the ground did a tremendous job,” Jabbar concluded.

The Foreign Office contributed travel expenses for the UK lawyers, but the team completed all of the legal work on a pro bono basis.