Dragging Feet

Kenyan authorities stand accused of slowing down the decision making process allowing them to take on piracy trials.

A local magistrate has accused the State of dragging out an appeal on whether Kenya can try piracy suspects. This had made it difficult for lower courts to expedite trials and address the concerns of suspects, Mombasa chief magistrate Rosemelle Mutoka said.

As a result, many cases have been adjourned indefinitely, awaiting the verdict of the Court of Appeal on the High Court ruling that the country does not have jurisdiction to try suspected Somali pirates.

Mr Justice Mohamed Ibrahim ruled last year that magistrates had no jurisdiction to try suspected Somali pirates charged under Section 69 (1) of the Penal Code.

By the time the ruling was made, there were seven cases involving 57 Somalis at different levels of trial.

Several others had been dispensed with, a dozen suspects found guilty and jailed.

Ms Mutoka said the seven cases had been stopped indefinitely following the appeal.

The magistrate asked why the State was not acting with the same zeal it applied to some cases that came from the magistrates’ courts to the High Court for revision.

“This uncertainty is not fair to the accused persons and this court will not entertain any further applications for mentions in this case if the State shows no diligence to get a date in the Court of Appeal,” said Ms Mutoka.

State counsel Vincent Monda said the highest court on the land had scheduled the application for March 28 and parties had been served with hearing notices.

“We do apologise for the delay … we did try our best to get dates but the diary of the Court of Appeal was congested,” said Mr Monda.

Separately, a magistrate has declined to rule on whether he has jurisdiction to try suspected Somali pirates.

Senior resident magistrate Karimi Mwangi said determining the issue may turn out to be an act in futility since the matter was in the Court of Appeal.

“Hearing date to be taken upon determination of the appeal,” said Mr Mwangi while delivering a ruling in which 11 suspected pirates had raised, among others, the issue of jurisdiction.

The case will be mentioned on April 11.

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