COLLABORATION IN JUSTICE SECTOR SHOULD GO BEYOND COMBATING CORONAVIRUS
By Farel Nalimae
On Sunday March 15, 2020, Chief Justice David Maraga called a meeting of the justice sector heads under the auspices of the National Council on Administration of Justice-NCAJ which he chairs. The Council was formally launched in August 2011 and established under Section 34 of the Judicial Service Act (No. 1 of 2011).
It is a high-level policy making, implementation and oversight coordinating mechanism as reflected in its membership that is composed of State and Non-State Actors from the justice sector. The mandate as stipulated in the Act is to ensure a coordinated, efficient, effective and consultative approach in the administration of justice and reform of the justice system.
The Chief Justice has always chaired the council and has in the past called for meetings to iron out issues arising and affecting the delivery of justice in the country. At a full council meeting in Naivasha in 2018, Chief Justice David Maraga urged council members to take the meetings seriously and always purpose to attend in person. He cautioned against sending representatives, a situation that would always undermine certain decision making mechanisms. That meeting was attended by most of the council members who made clear resolutions on how to deal with corruption cases in the system. They resolved to among other measures, form a 12-member committee to identify challenges faced in anti-corruption matters and make recommendations on inter-agency collaboration and measures to address the challenges. The Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji was tasked to chair the committee.
Since then, there have not been many notable activities of the full council meetings and deliberations, save for committees appointed under the NCAJ such as the Bail and Bond Committee which completed its deliberations and submitted their report to the Chief Justice, the Taskforce on Children’s Matters which also completed and submitted a report and the National Committee on Criminal Justice Reforms whose activities are still underway.
Fast forward to March 15, 2020, Coronavirus originally discovered in Wuhan Province in faraway China is announced to have made its sojourn in Kenya. The Cabinet Secretary in charge of health Mutahi Kagwe told the country that the first victim arrived from the United States of America via the United Kingdom and had variously travelled to several destinations in the country thereby creating the possibility of having interacted with many people along the way and hence the chance that many people are infected. The justice sector works in a way that is akin to a conveyor belt. Police arrest suspects, they are processed by the prosecution, probation, advocates, children services, human rights organizations and others before they are arraigned in court. In the courts the suspects are handled by police, judicial officers and staff, members of the public and prison officers. They are finally, if convicted handed over to the Prisons where they interact with fellow prisoners and prison staff. This would form a perfect conveyor belt to spread the coronavirus.
Chief Justice David Maraga in his wisdom called a meeting of all justice sector players at the Supreme Court to deliberate on ways to combat the spread of the virus in line with the directions given by the World Health Organization and the Ministry of Health. As a show of unity of purpose, despite it having been a Sunday and on short notice, the DPP Noordin Haji, Inspector General of Police – Hilary Mutyambai, Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission’s CEO Twalib Mbarak, LSK President Allen Waiyaki and Correctional Services Principal Secretary Zainab Hussein led their charges to join the Chief Justice to stop the spread of the Coronavirus in the justice system.
The meeting among other deliberations directed that there shall be a scale down of court activities throughout the country over the next two weeks in order to allow further consultations and design appropriate measures to prevent the spread of the virus; That during the period, prisoners and remandees will not be presented to court; New arrests, all cases except serious ones to be dealt with at the police stations in accordance with guidelines to be issued by the Inspector General of Police; All appeals, hearings and mentions in Criminal and Civil cases in all courts to be suspended with immediate effect; All execution proceedings were also suspended during the two weeks; Courts were directed to continue handling certificates of urgency and taking plea for serious cases; During the period, all judicial officers and staff to continue being on duty, however, there will be no open court appearances; Judges in all stations to review deserving cases already identified by Prisons authorities and issue appropriate revision orders in an effort to decongest the prisons; Magistrate Courts to also review bail terms for those in remand; Suspension of all conferences, workshops, colloquia and training until further notice and a freeze on foreign travel for the next 30 days for staff of the justice sector institutions, whether official or private, save for exceptional circumstances.
All the players in the justice sector appended their signatures to these resolutions without any reservations. Owing to these measures plus those announced internally by the various organizations as part of the efforts to combat the spread of the coronavirus, we have witnessed scaled down activities at the court stations across the country. Milimani Law Courts which is arguably the busiest court station in the country processing about 5000 litigants daily remained partially closed to avoid congestion and avert a possible spread of Coronavirus.
On Coronavirus, there’s no pointing fingers among the justice sector players and a common purpose is being achieved. Suppose cases could be tackled with the same unity of purpose? Case backlog in the court system is largely occasioned by lack of cooperation among the justice sector players. If the DPP, DCI, the Law Society of Kenya, the Prisons Services, the Executive, and Human Rights Organizations will only pull together as they were forced to do to combat the coronavirus, the justice system will run smoothly. It will be in the interest of Wanjiku to see the collaboration exhibited by the justice sector players on March 15, go beyond the efforts to combat coronavirus and be replicated in every effort to deliver justice to Kenyans. If they do so there will be no case backlog, congested police cells, remands and prisons, disobedience of court orders and most importantly, there will be no miscarriage of justice.
The writer is a Public Communication Officer at the Judiciary.