US official calls for steps to speed up sexual assault cases

Tomika Patterson from the US Department of Justice during the editors' workshop in Mombasa. [Maxwell Agwanda, Standard]

Kenya has been urged to re-consider its policy disallowing plea bargaining for sexual offences, in the best interests of victims.

Tomika Patterson from the US Department of Justice and Shamini Jayanathan from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said ultimately Kenyans themselves will have to make the decision based on their circumstances.

“Victims of sexual offences go through very traumatic experiences, which have to be relived every now and then in the course of trial. You can spare them that agony of a second time victimisation,” Patterson said.

The two were speaking at an editors' sensitisation workshop between the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) and Kenya Editors Guild (KEG) in Mombasa. The workshop was also attended by Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Noordin Haji.  

Plea bargaining is a negotiated agreement between an accused and a prosecutor where the accused agrees to voluntarily plead guilty for lesser or lenient punishment. Plea agreements in Kenya can be entered in all cases except in sexual offences, genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Sexual offence cases mostly involve minors but also take long time to conclude, Patterson said. They also form the bulk of the many cases dragging on in Kenyan courts, adding to case backlog.

Patterson said from US federal jurisdiction experience, plea bargaining for all offences, including sexual offences, has reduced backlogs, facilitated swifter justice, saved resources and saved victims the misfortune of having to relive their experiences.

“Kenya has reasons for exempting sexual offences from plea bargaining, but may have to relook at the policy. Ultimately this is a decision for Kenya to make, and already discussions are taking place. The reality of the US may not find a place in Kenya. It is now up to you to strike your ideal,” she said.

Jayanathan said with aid of technology, including video recording of victim accounts, Kenya can wiggle out of the present problem. She said in the UK, child victims of offences such as defilement are allowed to record their accounts, records which are used in evidence in chief.

“They do not have to go over it again and again. With technology, it’s possible to overcome this,” she said.  

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