Virtual court cases jolted by confusion, mishaps

Inmates play cards outside their holding cells at Naivasha Maximum Security Prison. Some lawyers have expressed reservations about virtual court cases.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • It’s hard for a judge to tell if the accused is being coached to answer questions.

Robbery with violence suspect Peter Kamau Ngige walked out of Naivasha Maximum Security Prison a free man in June following a mix-up of names during a court process.

Ngige shared names with another person arrested for an alcohol-related offence.

Since then, police officers have been searching for Ngige with little success. 

At the trial, he posed as the liquor suspect, with prison officers seemingly unaware of his tricks. 

“During the video conferencing proceedings, the man on robbery charges posed as the illicit alcohol remandee, deceitfully gaining freedom,” a source at the Prison Department said.

Since Kenya confirmed its first coronavirus case in March, court users have experienced numerous challenges when applying technology, especially in virtual proceedings.

Naivasha lawyer Francis Mburu is aware of the shortcomings.

He cited a case on Wednesday involving Patel Coffee Estates MD Perry Mansukh Kansagara, general manager Vinoj Jaya Kumar and seven others that was to be heard afresh. 

Almost eight hours

Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji has applied to have the accused charged anew, a decision Mr Mburu and other defence lawyers opposed. 

“We took almost eight hours to deliberate on an issue which could have taken an hour under normal circumstances,” he said. 

The court is expected to make a ruling on October 28. 

Mr Mburu expressed reservations about the use of online technology, alluding to criminal cases “where the judge will look at the accused’s demeanour”.

“It’s hard for the court to tell if the accused is being coached to answer questions or otherwise in a virtual scenario,” he said.

Online technology, Mr Mburu added, “is a major handicap that will likely delay matters because most technology users have not grasped the basics.”.
Naivasha probation officer Joel Kamau concurred, saying, most affected are those on bond or granted bail.  

“Some have continued languishing in detention as there is nobody to bail them out after virtual court proceedings,” he said. 

It takes long for their relatives and friends to get communication, with the probation department playing a major role.

Internet connectivity

Mr Kamau also noted that internet connectivity remains a challenge, especially in rural Kenya.

“The intention to speed up cases is good, but largely limited by lack of proper structures,” the probation officer said.  

Mr Kamau and Mr Mburu said a majority of court users are handicapped technologically, hampering online processes.