, NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 25 – The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) plans to increase the number of specialist lawyers to prosecute wildlife crime in a new unit that will be joined by a leading authority in international criminal networks and the illegal wildlife trade.
KWS’s Specialist Prosecutions Unit will expand from two to 12 lawyers following extensive training carried out by experts from Kenya-based conservation charity Space for Giants, and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
This surge in the number of expert prosecutors trained on how to use the full force of Kenya’s fierce new Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013 will strike further fear into the hearts of poachers and wildlife criminals.
Julius Kimani, KWS’s Acting Director General, and Max Graham, Space for Giants’ CEO, today signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) bringing the organisations’ legal experts together to increase the number of successful trials.
Shamini Jayanathan, Space for Giants’ Director of Wildlife Law and Justice, will support KWS to ensure world-class legal expertise is brought to bear upon Kenya’s fight against poaching and the illegal wildlife trade.
“While we have put in place policies, mechanisms and structures to deal with the menace of poaching and illegal trade in wildlife and their products, our efforts will not succeed unless we join hands with stakeholders in tackling these challenges,” said Kimani. “We all owe ourselves a duty to ensure that anything that threatens the wellbeing of wildlife is confronted and defeated.”
He added: “KWS cannot on its own win this war, rather, our collective effort is the surest way to deal with perpetrators of wildlife crime. We have started witnessing the fruits of the new Wildlife Conservation and Management Act in confronting poaching of wildlife, especially rhino and elephants, hence stemming threats of the two species extinction.”
The MOU, signed today at the wildlife service’s Langata HQ in Nairobi, sets out a series of steps that Space for Giants will undertake to support KWS prosecutions.
They included an induction programme and extensive training for new recruits to KWS’s Specialist Prosecutions Unit.
Ongoing mentoring and training for at least a year following the Unit’s gazettement by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP).
Continued support to the head of the Unit to implement policies that ensure the KWS prosecutors operate under the same high ODPP prosecution standards in force across Kenya.
And help to train KWS’s criminal investigators and scenes-of-crime specialists as well as help for the Service to develop a frontline human rights protection policy.
Kenya’s wildlife laws are now among the strictest in the world, with heavy minimum fines for trafficking elephant tusks, rhino horns, and other illegal wildlife parts. Prison terms for convicted wildlife criminals are also now among the world’s longest.
“Not only can the KWS catch wildlife criminals but now they have the capacity to ensure those criminals are convicted under Kenya’s robust laws,” said Max Graham of Space for Giants.
“A ranger in the field should not have to experience the frustration of confronting a wildlife criminal they arrested a week earlier walking free again because of a failed prosecution. This is a critical step up in the battle against the illegal wildlife trade and I am honoured that Space for Giants is able, in some small way, to support Kenya in this battle under the Giants Club initiative.”
Until now, cases against suspected wildlife criminals have been carried out by ODPP prosecutors or the Kenya Police Service. Those units will have more time and resources to dedicate to other crimes affecting Kenyans now that KWS has more of its own prosecutors.
The new lawyers are expected soon to be gazetted by the Director of Public Prosecutions, under whose authority they will bring cases and whose office remains the ultimate prosecution institution in Kenya.
Space for Giants’ work to enhance Kenya’s legal capacity against wildlife crime includes a series of guidance documents for the judiciary, including a Code of Conduct for prosecutors, suggestions on drafting wildlife crime laws, and model sentences for such offenses.
The organisation’s in-house legal expertise includes Jayanathan, a British criminal barrister specialising in building legislative, prosecutorial and judicial capacity in relation to wildlife crime.
Her work has included initiating and leading the development of a Rapid Reference Guide for wildlife crime investigators and prosecutors that was initially trialled in Kenya, and has since been replicated in countries across Africa under Space for Giants programmes.