Fear forcing innocent people to plead guilty, judge says

Judge says lack of legal knowledge also deterring inmates from filing appeals against court judgments.

Wednesday February 17 2016

Twelve Ethiopians who were arrested in Maralal for being in the country illegally have said they were travelling to South Africa. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Twelve Ethiopians who were arrested in Maralal for being in the country illegally have said they were travelling to South Africa. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By MAURICE KALUOCH
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Accused persons are pleading guilty to crimes they did not commit not to “complicate” matters, a High Court judge has said.

Homa Bay High Court Judge David Majanja said that the lack of legal knowledge had also deterred many inmates from filing appeals against court judgments.

“There are people who look innocent but due to language barrier and fear of being remanded for long, they simply plead to the charges by saying "yes afande" for fear that continuing with the case to full trial would complicate their cases,” said Mr Justice Majanja.

He spoke when he opened a paralegal training workshop convened by International Commission of Jurists for Homa Bay prison inmates.

“Lack of knowledge on basic legal affairs have made many convicts who deserve appeals suffer in prisons because they do not know where to start from. I hope this training will offer our inmates opportunity to understand legal channels that can enable them get justice,” Mr Majanja said.

FEAR FACTOR

The judge said the Judiciary is currently undergoing transformation aimed at offering every accused person an opportunity to be heard and get justice.

The officer in charge of Homa Bay Prison, Jonas Gotondo, said his experience had revealed that many prisoners suffer jail terms mainly because of fear.

He said such fear makes remandees plead guilty of cases that they would have easily won.

Local Chief Magistrate Ms Patricia Gichohi told suspects, including children who are accused of murder and robbery, that they would have lawyers hired by the State.
“Many inmates get jailed due to failure to articulate their issues clearly. Our courts are now committed to ensuring that suspects access justice,” said Mr Gichohi.
International Commission of Jurists Deputy Executive Director Elsy Sainna expressed optimism that the training would help in decongesting the prison.
“I feel this knowledge will help a number of inmates defend themselves and get freedom and hence decongest prisons,” said the official.

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