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The National Council on the Administration of Justice Committee on Criminal Justice Reforms Planning Meeting

The National Council on the Administration of Justice Committee on Criminal Justice Reforms (NCCJR) was established and gazzeted by The Chief Justice of Kenya, Hon.David K Maraga, on 23rd June, 2017.This Committee is tasked with spearheading the comprehensive review and reform of Kenya’s entire criminal justice system and overseeing the full implementation of the findings and recommendations of a report dubbed, the Criminal Justice System in Kenya: An Audit”[1], and The Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists ( ICJ Kenya) research on, “Law and Policy on the Petty Offences and Practices Affecting Populations at the National Level and in Kisumu, Mombasa, and Nairobi Counties[2].

Bearing in mind the herculean task bestowed upon it, the NCCJR committee convoked in Mombasa on 12th to 17th September 2017 to develop a work plan running from September 2017 to 31st December 2018 when the mandate of the committee is supposed to end. Top of the agenda of the planning meeting were presentations on the audit report & ICJ Kenya report; understanding the committee’s terms of reference; and formation of different working groups.

Duncan Okello, seated right, following the proceedings of the meeting

The committee’s sessions co-chaired by Lady Justice Grace Ngenye, the chairperson of the NCCJR Committee, and Duncan Okello, the Executive Director of the National Council on the Administration of Justice, begun in earnest by presentations on the findings of the audit report and ICJ Kenya research by Lenson Njogu and Edigah Kavulavu respectively.

The criminal justice audit was the first time in the history of Kenya that the criminal justice system had been comprehensively audited, issues systematically documented and published.Mr.Njogu highlighted the key findings in the report and further observed that poor and indigent people in Kenya are more often than not arrested, charged and sent to prison as compared to the well to do. Petty offences such as offences relating to lack of business licenses, being drunk and disorderly and creating disturbance form 70% of cases processed through the justice system. A major concern as per the findings was that, serious offences such as organized crimes, capital offences and sexual offences were found to have the highest rate of acquittal and withdrawals.

Mr. Kavulavu noted that petty offences trace their origin from English laws that were designed to, force people to work, restrict the movement of potential labourers, curtail criminal activity, punish idleness, and enable law enforcement agents to make arrests without proof of actual commission of offences. It is important for Kenya to decriminalize petty offences because human rights violations such as arbitrary arrests and detention, assault, harassment and degrading treatment during arrest and detention, false arrests, unfair bail terms, irregular fines, irregular sentencing practices, profiling and stigma, and social marginalization are usually perpetrated during enforcement of such petty offences.

The raft of recommendations in the two research documents formed bulk of the discussions in the breakaway groups that were divided into:

  1. Policing and police powers
  2. Prosecution and the prosecution processes
  3. Court processes: trial and appeals: code of criminal procedures
  4. Correctional Services/alternative punishment/Rehabilitation
  5. Post confinement, re-integration and resettlement

Each of the groups was supposed to address pertinent thematic issues in the administration of criminal justice such as:

  • Legal and policy issues;
  • Research and documentation;
  • Resource mobilization and equitable allocation of resources for institutions;
  • Public outreach and sensitization;
  • Rights of ex-convicts and victims/ Rights of prisoners, remandees, victims, vulnerable groups and mental offenders/ Appeals against convictions/ Rights of a suspect, arrested person and victims; and
  • Implementation matrix

The fruits of the 4days meeting were work plans developed for the five cluster groups. ICJ Kenya sits in the, “Court processes: trial and appeals: code of criminal procedures” sub-committee. Each of the subcommittee will rely on the Audit report and ICJ Kenya research in conducting their businesses as per the work plans.

 

[1] The Legal Resources Foundation Trust (LRF) and Resources Oriented Development Initiatives (RODI-Kenya) under the umbrella of National Council on Administration of Justice (NCAJ) partnered to conduct a comprehensive Audit of Kenya’s criminal justice system with focus on pre-trial detention focusing on case-flow management and conditions of detention.

[2] The findings of the research are intended to demonstrate the gaps in laws, policy and practices at the national and county levels and inform the need for decriminalization of petty offences in Kenya as well as complement advocacy for penal reforms and reforms in the criminal justice system as a whole.

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