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4,800 inmates released over coronavirus fears

COUNTIES
By Cyrus Ombati | April 2nd 2020

Over 4800 inmates serving jail sentences of less than six months have been released by the High Court.

This is part of the measures the government has adopted to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus disease in prisons.

Chief Justice David Maraga (pictured) on Wednesday also directed that any crime involving deviance of national orders regarding control of Covid-19 will be considered serious crime and courts will convene to hear such cases.

The CJ had initially directed that no prisoners or remandees will be presented to the court, and that the courts will only handle serious cases.

Maraga said the High Court had in the last two weeks received files of inmates, who are petty offenders jailed for periods of less than six months and those others whose terms the remaining period is less than six months, which were subjected to review.

“The files were presented to the High Court for review. This has resulted in the release of 4800 inmates significantly helping to decongest the prisons. The exercise is continuing,” Maraga said.

“Serious crimes including deviance of national orders regarding control of Covid-19 will continue to be presented in court for plea taking courts. In consultation with the police and the DPP courts will convene at short notice and handle such cases.”

On Tuesday, the NCAJ members conducted a virtual meeting attended by the DDP Noordin Haji, the EACC CEO Twalib Mbarak, the Inspector General of Police Hillary Mutyambai, the Commissioner-General of Prisons Wycliffe Ogalo and the President of the LSK Nelson Havi.

Maraga also said that the NCAJ had resolved that petty and traffic offenders should never be held by police for more than 24 hours.

“For the sake of transparency, all police stations will have centralized records showing of the number arrested and the terms of their release. The ODPP will monitor the exercise periodically,” he added.

Immediately the first coronavirus case was confirmed in Kenya, the CJ directed that no prisoners or remandees will be presented to the court, and further directed the police to avoid arbitrary arrests and unnecessary detention of suspects, for minor offences like loitering and causing a disturbance.

“The judiciary and the rest of the public sector have not closed shop. The sector continues to render services and the NCAJ is determined to ensure that the wheels of justice do not grind to a halt,” Maraga said.

“This communiqué supersedes all the others that had been given earlier on," the CJ said

The CJ regretted that there had been a significant spike in sexual offences in the last two weeks.

About 35.8 per cent of the criminal matters recorded during that period. As a result, the CJ said depending on the individual facts of each case upon application by the DPP the courts will available to give early hearing dates.

“In some cases, unfortunately, the perpetrators are close relatives, guardians or persons living with the victims who instead of taking care, are preying on the young girls,” Maraga said.

Working remotely

The measures announced by the CJ include the isolation of new inmates to reduce the risk of infection while prison visits have been suspended and prison labour also reduced to a bare minimum. The CJ said the judges are executing their duties albeit from home, and more courts will deliver judgments electronically.

In the next two weeks, the Supreme Court will deliver one judgment and 10 rulings, The Court of Appeal will deliver more than 45 judgments and rulings on appeals today, April 3.

The High Court, on the other hand, will deliver 367 judgments while the Environment and Land Court will deliver 269, among other rulings.

Also suspended until further notice, is the execution of warrants of arrests, court decrees and orders made prior to March 15.

“The police, court bailiffs and auctioneers are in the circumstances instructed not to carry out the execution of those court orders and warrants,” he said.

 

Other institutions in the criminal justice system have come up with a raft of measures to avoid congestion. The ODPP also said they would only prosecute serious cases of murder, robbery with violence, terrorism, and trafficking.

Haji directed that the prosecution of other cases remain suspended and that his staff will only focus on the serious more cases.

In a communication to the staff, DPP said other new arrests apart from those mentioned above, will be dealt with at the police stations in accordance with guidelines to be issued by the Inspector-General of Police.

Mutyambai has also directed officers to release suspects of minor offences on reasonable bail terms to ensure there is no congestion.

He said all other suspects arrested will be released on cash bail, police bond or issued with Notice to Attend Court (NTAC), adding that this could be extended depending on the situation.

The Deputy Inspector General Edward Mbugua had also on March 27 issued a directive to all police officers enforcing the curfew orders to grant police bonds to detained persons where appropriate.

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