ICC prosecutor Lara Renton made the one line acknowledgement that her office was not opposed to a March trial when the presiding judge of the trial Chamber Kuniko Ozaki asked her to be specific on which date they preferred.
“The prosecution has no problem starting the trial after March 2013,” she responded.
That sent a sigh of relief among the defence lawyers David Hooper (for Ruto) and Katwa Kigen for Sang, who quickly acknowledged that they had no problem with a trial after March next year.
And both Ruto and Sang were quick to put themselves in the good books of the Trial Chamber at the earliest opportune, pledging that they would be present during the entire trial. Their lawyers told the Chamber that the two had made an undertaking and given their word that they would abide by all the rulings made by the Chamber regarding their attendance.
The court will now pick trial date before the end of July. If it accepts the submissions and picks March next year, it will have given a reprieve to Uhuru and Ruto to up their campaigns for the presidency.
Though debate will still be on as to whether the two should be on the ballot with charges of crimes against humanity pending at the ICC, a trial date after March will allay any fears they might have of being recalled from their busy campaigns to face months of trial at The Hague.
It is mandatory under the Rome Statute for them to be present during their trial.
Backers of Ruto and Uhuru have been pushing to have the trial start after the March 14 election, by which time the country will have settled from the dust of the campaigns. The Government, on its part, has been pushing to have the cases transferred to Kenya.
The next dilemma will be how to handle the trial should any of the two win the presidency.
The suspects had been allowed to keep their freedom by the Pre-Trial Chamber on condition that they desisted from making any utterances or behaving in any way that would trigger animosity and insecurity in the country. The Trial Chamber might adopt those conditions or set its own under the circumstances of the case.
If the court allows them to remain free during the trial, it will have set precedence since all other suspects on trial at The Hague are in the custody of the ICC.
The twin status conferences have been called as a matter of procedure to discuss the trial date and other housekeeping maters. Only Sang attended Monday’s session, accompanied by his lawyer Katwa Kigen.
It was, however, clear that even the prosecution was not ready for an immediate trial. The prosecution indicated it was in the process of interviewing more witnesses, and that disclosure material would be finalised in the first quarter of next year.
The prosecution said they had 120 materials ready for immediate disclosure, but the rest would need more time.