Drama/Comedy: 8 common sideshows in Kenyan courts
Drama/Comedy: 8 common sideshows in Kenyan courts
There are many weird things going on in the corridors of justice. Besides the odd pickpocket, there are also ‘learned friends’ with dubious reputations that the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) would frown upon. Is the suspect Chinese? Not to worry, there’s a translator who understands Mandarin. And in case things are not going in your favour, a witchdoctor is on standby for a dose of magic!
Here, the sombre and humorous play out like a tragicomedy – from the handing of a death sentence by a serious-faced magistrate to suspects blaming spirits for their predicament.
Some of the sideshows in courts include:
They are always on the prowl. Recently, a man who was representing one of the ex-military men facing court martial for deserting the Kenya Defense Forces was accused of being a fraudster.
Charles Mathuva, represented Samuel Malombe between April 8 and July 21 during the court martial at the Mtongwe Kenya Navy Base.
The court was told how he had been practicing as an advocate without a licence. He also had no supporting academic documents or an advocate’s certificate. The accused was released on a Sh100,000 surety bond or Sh50,000 bail and hearing set for September 12.
A suit, file and good English does not make one a lawyer. If you are seeking legal services, it is advisable that you first check LSK’s website to confirm if the lawyer you wish to engage is licenced to practice or de-registered.
Take Robert Tuti Aswani for instance. He was struck off the register in 2008 and his status reads as ‘non-compliant.’ But this has not kept him off the corridors of justice – he represented The Mitumba Women’s Group in Kibera Law Courts when they were arrested for trespassing on a crime scene.
In Mathuva’s case, his status is simply flagged as ‘unknown’ on the LSK website. Besides Aswani, LSK has struck off 56 lawyers and suspended 36.
We contacted LSK on September 11 and they confirmed that the information on the website is up to date. LSK advises Nairobians to check the website to verify the credibility of lawyers or call their offices for clarification.
Damned and desperate
They thrive on desperation, and suspects seeking to be released on bond are easy prey. The court and victims end up losing a lot of money to these scammers, especially in Kibera and Makadara law courts. Some bond brokers have been charged at Milimani Law Courts for extortion and fraud.
It is suspected that some of them operate with the full knowledge of some officials and act as conduits for corrupt deals between lawyers and magistrates.
The poor, illiterate and desperate ones from rural villages are the main targets. These brokers have apparently even mastered the craft of ‘cooking’ payslips to secure the release of suspects on bond in a syndicate that involves unscrupulous court clerks. One payslip can be used multiple times to secure the release of several suspects.
When a politician or high profile person like a magistrate or respected lawyer is arrested for ‘embarrassing’ offenses like drunk driving, the court session can turn into a media circus…unless you are smart. Smart like nominated Senator Joy Gwendo for instance, whose ‘alcoblow’ plea was well timed and taken when the courts had almost emptied.
These big wigs may also choose to take their pleas in the chambers instead of open courts – like magistrate Charles Kamau, whose drunk driving charge was read in Milimani Law Courts chambers.
We all know that phones should be off limit to suspects in cells or prisons (even if they still call us with the ‘good news’ of cash prizes!). But that shouldn’t give the officers the right to use your kabambe as you cool your heels in jail. N’Faye Doukoure and Kenneth Kamau Maina, charged for being in possession of ivory worth Sh78 million in May complained in court that the police were using their mobile phones, which were confiscated after they were arrested
Not surprisingly, the investigating officers didn’t show up when the court summoned them to shed light on the complaint. Then the prosecutors turned and said the phones were part of the evidence! There are also alleged instances where phones are deliberately not labelled, especially for those charged with traffic offences. You can be sure that after paying the fine in court, that phone will never be traced.
And woe unto you if you are an ‘insignificant’ person and your phone rings in court. The rule is that all phones must be switched off during court sessions…unless of course you are a bold court reporter, police officer or a lawyer, then you can sneak out to attend to the ‘pressing business.’ The rest of the hoi polloi will have to give up their phones for the offending disturbance!
Murder, she wrote
Then there are the technical gaps – probably crafted deliberately at police stations, who knows? They allow murder charges to change to manslaughter and robbery with violence to slip into the safe space of felony, while rape becomes attempted rape.
Did you know there are lawyers who specialise in cases involving Chinese nationals? Yes, that group of suspects that invariably end in court for possessing or smuggling game trophies. What is certain is that most of these cases will be delayed as prosecution tries to get interpreters. This is a headache for the men in blue, who by law, cannot hold suspects for more than 24 hours without charging them.
Marlene Abong’o, a popular ‘Chinese lawyer’ said, “I am not attached to the Chinese embassy as their lawyer. It’s only that my practice is near the embassy and naturally, I get to see a lot of Chinese in need of legal service.”
If you haven’t been keen, please take note that those Mganga posters tend to increase in number near law courts. Yes, among other things, they can ‘help you win a case.’
Recently, one of the witchdoctors living a stone throw from Makadara Law Courts told The Nairobian, “I help a lot of people to win cases in this court and many have been set free. My prices are negotiable. There are many of us around here.”
Lawyers don’t have to feel awkward for representing well-connected drug lords. It’s just another day in the office. Let’s just hope they don’t cross over into their clients’ business!