NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 23 – A report by the National Council on Administration of Justice (NCAJ) has revealed that 75 percent of pr-trial detainees are aged between 18 to 35 years and have their cases dragging on for very long.
According to the study, this has resulted in a huge backlog with the main work falling upon prosecutors and the police, but Chief Justice David Maraga says they fall below par.
While observing that the system is skewed against the poor and the youth, Maraga described the high acquittal rates as worrying, stating that evidence collection and presentation does not meet the required standards.
“The message from all these results is to the police and the prosecution to up their act if the ends of justice are to be served. If you take for example the period of detention up to about nine and a half years before one is tried, what is the message?” he said.
“Quite a number of people will suffer in detention and at the end of the day they will be found innocent and be acquitted. The other implication from this report is that the high acquittal rate speaks to a number of things, either that the police investigations are shoddy, the prosecution is poor or that these cases should not even have been brought to court in the first place,” he stated while observing that this was an indictment on the system.
The Chief Justice however emphasised the need to realign the criminal justice system with the Constitution to urgently address the challenges facing the Judiciary.
“The disturbing part of this aspect of the report is that 64 percent of pre-trial detainees in police cells had no reasons for release recorded in the cell registers or the occurrence books raising questions of their manner of release,” he stated.
“The Audit further finds that only 32 percent of the police entries were converted to charges of which 70 percent were petty offences,” he said.
He indicated that of the cases taken to court, there was a low rate of successful prosecution of serious offences.
He cited examples like sexual offenses, 32 percent result in acquittals, 63 percent are withdrawn and only five percent attract guilty verdicts.
“Worrying me is that serious offences such as organized crimes, capital and sexual offenses were found to have the highest rate of acquittals and withdrawals. The study establishes also that appeals to the High Court recorded high overturn rates with 45 percent of them resulting in either complete liberty, reduced sentences, re-trails or change of conviction,” he said.
He also stressed the need to ensure that living conditions in prisons are conducive for special interest groups.
The Judiciary has in the recent past held sessions aimed at clearing a backlog of court cases and the Judiciary launched a new division of the High Court called Anti-Corruption & Economic Crimes to deal with such matters speedily.
NCAJ mainly focused on pre-trial detention and case-flow management in the project that targeted 18 counties from May 15, 2015.
“The findings made by the audit gave a comprehensive analysis of the criminal justice system towards providing recommendations to strengthen service delivery and legislative policy as well as practice reforms in Kenya.
And in an effort to step up the fight against graft, the Judiciary launched a new division of the High Court called Anti-Corruption & Economic Crimes to deal with such matters speedily.
The release of the report comes at a time of rising complaints about the slow pace of justice.
Critics also say the criminal justice system is clogged with less serious offences that largely contribute to the delay in delivering justice and congestion at detention centres.