The Supreme Court has made one of the most profound decision on the administration of justice in Kenya. Yesterday, a five-judge Bench dealt a blow to individuals quick to file and challenge their trial even before they commence.
By finding that a challenge on rulings emanating from preliminary issues that arise during the trial should be after conclusion of a criminal trial, the apex court has shortened most trials. It will be hard if not impossible for suspects to keep the end at bay unless there is a clear-cut reason; and that is either seeking to have a judge or magistrate withdraw from the trial or questioning the evidence produced against them.
Mr Joseph Waswa, the litigant in the landmark judgement, has been out for six years while his trial terminated when the trial court had just heard six witnesses. His trial was among thousand others pending, leading to a backlog. By adapting the technique used during the hearing of election petitions, it means the wheels of justice should move faster and either convict the guilty or vindicate the innocent.
The Supreme Court, in its judgement yesterday, rightly observed that although criminal trials are not time bound like election petitions, there is need to have them determined expeditiously in line with the constitutional prescriptions. The delay of criminal cases defeats the intention of the framers of the Constitution and of Parliament to have criminal trials concluded fast.
The guarantee to have a criminal trial conducted without undue delay relates not only to the time by which a trial should commence but also the time by which it should end, judgement rendered and any applicable appeals or reviews completed.
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It is a litigant’s legitimate expectation that when they seek justice, the same will be dispensed fast enough. It is also against public interest to have long, meandering cases. This erodes the confidence Kenyans have in the criminal justice system. It is perceived that justice is for the rich as they can challenge their trials and delay justice as long as they can, while the poor are swiftly tried and convicted.
If a chicken thief can be tried, jailed within six months, so should the rich. Only then, will the scales of justice be seen to balance for all.