Our Women’s Month judgment this week comes from Kenya’s Judge William Musyoka. What makes his decision stand out is that he has found and highlighted an anomaly in the law dealing with rape, a particularly traumatic crime that is all too prevalent. He explained that the same set of facts could be considered under either of two provisions, but one could attract a much lighter sentence than the other. He said he did not understand why there should be two provisions and why, as in this case, the state would choose to charge the accused under the section that would result in a lesser sentence. It is a welcome and important step when judgments pay such close attention to the laws that affect so many – most of them women and children; when they point out anomalies that see perpetrators walking away with ‘a slap on the wrist’, as Judge Musyoka put it. His judgment is a challenge to the legislature to reconsider the law and close the escape route that could see a rapist spending very little time in prison despite the horrendous nature of the crime.
When a death row prisoner has his date with the executioner commuted and starts a lifelong relationship with the inside of a prison instead, he will usually continue to explore every avenue to escape a prolonged life behind bars. Those explorations seldom amount to anything, but in the case of two prisoners waiting out their life-term in a jail in Kenya, luck – and a failure of Parliament to sort out a conflict of laws – was on their side.
Peter Muindi and Jimmy Musila were originally charged and convicted of attempted robbery with violence. On conviction they were sentenced to death. Though the death penalty was commuted to life, they lost both their appeal attempts (to the High Court and the Court of Appeal) on the question of conviction and appropriate sentence. That seemed to be the end of the road: they would have to reconcile themselves to spending the rest of their lives in jail.
A specialised network of organisations responding to the issues of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis in Kenya has come in for some unwelcome publicity. This after it used a photograph of one of its own staff on its website, with a caption that identified her as “an HIV positive sex worker waiting for treatment”. The staffer in the photograph was awarded damages by Kenya’s HIV/AIDS tribunal, but her employers appealed. They argued that it was not “demeaning” to say someone was a sex worker nor was she defamed when it was said of her that she was HIV positive. What would be the response of Judge Joseph Sergon of the High Court in Nairobi?
For two senior African judges, this has been a particularly momentous month. Justice Joseph Wowo of Nigeria, former Chief Justice of Gambia, has been effectively exonerated by a regional court after his humiliating treatment at the hands of the courts in Gambia and his dismissal by the then-President, Yahya Jammeh. Justice Wowo has also been awarded significant damages for the way he was treated. But though his trials and tribulations may now be over, serious trouble is only just starting for a member of Kenya’s Supreme Court, Justice Jackton B. Ojwang’. Chief Justice David Maraga is reported to have written to President Uhuru Kenyatta, recommending that a special tribunal be established to consider the impeachment of his suspended colleague, Justice Ojwang’.
Did Kenya’s First Community Bank actually want to go ahead with its case? Otherwise, why had its litigation been so delayed, asked the court. The parties before Judge James Aaron Makau were divided in their answer. Those who were to be sued by the bank for a great deal of money said the delays were unconscionable and the case should be thrown out. But the bank said that though there had been delays it still was eager to have the matter heard – and it blamed the court for the delays. The judge was unimpressed: it was the advocate involved, not the court, that was to blame, he said.