CJ Martha Koome: Why corruption cases take long in court

CJ Martha Koome during her interview on Spice FM on May 20, 2022. [Esther Jeruto, Standard]

Chief Justice Martha Koome says delaying tactics and badly thought out prosecution are the key reasons corruption cases take too long to conclude.

The Chief Justice said when the prosecution lines up tens of witnesses, arraigns many suspects in one charge sheet, and the accused hire more than one lawyer to represent them, then it would take a “miracle” for the cases to be determined expeditiously.

Speaking on Spice FM on Friday, May 20, the Chief Justice said a specialised committee was formed to ensure that the challenges in resolving graft cases are addressed.

Chief Justice Martha Koome being toured around the Standard Group Newsroom by company CEO Orlando Lyomu on May 20, 2022. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

“When I took oath of office [on May 21, 2021], I told Kenyans that the Judiciary will not be a parking lot for corruption cases,” she said.

“There are fundamental problems that we might have had at the anti-corruption court in terms of how the [graft] cases are presented,” she said.

“For instance, if you present a case with 90 witnesses and half a tonne of documents, it would require a miracle to happen for a ruling to be made swiftly, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“When you have 20 or more accused persons in one case, each one of them will come with two or three lawyers. Then they’ll come with the witnesses, then they’ll come with their friends and relatives… You’ll actually need a mega tent to even start that case,” she said.

“These have been the conversations that I have been having with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), police and everybody in the National Council on the Administration of Justice.”

CJ Martha Koome arriving at the Standard Group Headquarters on Mombasa Road, Nairobi on May 20, 2022 for an interview on Spice FM. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

The Chief Justice said the Judiciary formed a special-purpose group to help unravel the challenges in resolving graft cases, and recommend solutions.

“We formed a specialised committee to look at all the bottlenecks that we experience, especially in corruption cases and advise the National Council on the Administration of Justice on how best corruption cases can be moved,” said the Supreme Court president.

“We’ve made tremendous progress. Some of the recommendations have been implemented, especially the one on combining witnesses; you don’t have to bring the 90 of them [to court]; [just] select the critical ones, [and produce them in court]. For instance, instead of bringing 90 witnesses, you can bring only 10. Given another year, I believe we’ll be telling a different story [on the Judiciary’s progress on the war against graft].”

‘When impeached, you’re impeached’

At the same time, the Chief Justice said convicted elective seat aspirants, for example Sirisia MP John Waluke, don’t lose the “convict” tag, even if they’re cleared to seek re-election or other elective positions.

Chief Justice Martha Koome was interviewed on Standard Group’s Spice FM on May 20, 2022. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

“When you are impeached, you are impeached; when you are sentenced, you are sentenced until the sentence is set aside,” she said.

“If you appeal [a lower court’s verdict], you are still sentenced [until the appeal is determined]. Your appeal does not take away the sentence,” she emphasised.

The CJ, however, held that the flexibility of interpretation on the Constitution’s clause that says convicted elective seat holders shouldn’t be barred from seeking office until they exhaust appeal options, has been abused.

“I think we interpret the law the way we like to, and for our benefits. Of course, if I want to benefit, I will interpret it the way I want. However, the law remains the law,” she stated, suggesting that if it was up to her, the convicted politicians wouldn’t be allowed to run for office.

Chapter Eight, Article 99 of the Kenyan Constitution says a convicted person seeking MP seat (for instance), won’t be barred from vying unless he or she exhausts his or her appeal avenues.

Article 99, Clause 3 says: “A person will not be disqualified unless all possibility of appeal or review of the relevant sentence or decision has been exhausted.”