Several high-profile Kenyans have mastered the art of manipulating the criminal justice system to avoid their day in court, the country’s top prosecutor has said.
Director of Criminal Prosecutions (DPP) Noordin Haji said many graft cases involving prominent individuals have stalled as the suspects keep filing applications to stop their trial.
Mr Haji, who was sworn into office slightly more than three years ago as the second DPP under the 2010 Constitution, said the trend had greatly hampered his office’s ability to attain its conviction targets.
The DPP has since assuming office approved the arraignment of several governors, legislators, judicial officers and influential businesspersons over theft of taxpayers’ funds.
To speed up high-profile cases pending in various courts, Mr Haji has now sought the assistance of the Judiciary to have the malaise cured from within.
During a courtesy call by the DPP to the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Martha Koome promised to look into the matter and seal any gaps slowing down the wheels of justice.
The DPP added the Covid-19 pandemic further slowed down work in his office, revealing they had to quickly digitise some operations to keep up with the piling workload.
He complained some suspects would feign sickness to stop cases, so much that the DPP’s office started demanding evidence whenever suspects claimed to have contracted Covid-19.
“We are ready, it is just the environment that we are in. One, Covid-19 and two, the constraints within the Judiciary itself. The other thing of course is the accused and their defence lawyers filing numerous applications, which of course is within their constitutional right, but there are also abusers of the process. Like some of the governors, they hop from one court to another making the same application and delaying us,” Mr Haji said in the interview.
Governors on graft charges
At least eight governors have been charged with graft, but most of the cases are yet to go into the main hearing.
“The other courts may not know what it is until we bring it to their attention. Sometimes the judges say ‘no, we have to hear this out’, so the other matter before the magistrate’s court has to stop. But we have also sat down, we paid a courtesy call on the Chief Justice, who was very gracious and she agreed to look into the matter and ensure some of these applications are not entertained and that they also have time limits,” the DPP added.
He further explained that in instances where the courts have stopped prosecutions, his office has sought other forums to address suspected graft and abuse of office.
While he did not expressly mention names, Mr Haji made reference to a petition he has filed against Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu at the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), where he has asked that she be removed from office.
Mwilu’s Imperial Bank case
Based on investigations by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), Mr Haji accuses Justice Mwilu of irregularly using her office to unlawfully recover securities from collapsed Imperial Bank.
The DCI further accuses Ms Mwilu of receiving irregular interest-free loans from the lender and evasion of taxes while purchasing land.
“There are some cases of very senior counsels that we took to court. One-and-a-half years down the line we cannot prosecute. The courts have just entertained that. They have given indefinite stop orders, which is very unusual, so we have presented some of these matters for the JSC to consider whether this is ethical or not,” Mr Haji held.
During his talks with Justice Koome, Mr Haji asked Kenya’s top judge to push for hiring of more anti-corruption court magistrates, as the current 15 cannot handle the high volume of cases.
“We have also asked if they (Judiciary) can automate their processes. Judges are still taking notes manually. Sometimes we have to wait for them to type before we can proceed. Some of them cannot hear cases back-to-back. If we were able to hear cases back-to-back for two, three or six months at most, we would conclude them,” Mr Haji said.