Two laws that we must implement in 2019
Kenyans’ Christmas celebrations were interrupted by news of yet another death at the hands of the police. Carilton Maina, 23, a student at the University of Leeds, the United Kingdom, had been shot dead in Kibera, Nairobi.
Carilton was a brilliant student, going by his academic report, and was unarmed.
Yet the young man joined the long list of Kenyans killed by those who ought to protect them.
In most cases, extrajudicial killings and disappearances targets poor young people.
The design in which they occur begs the question is it an offence to be young or, even worse, young and poor in Kenya?
The student’s death came a few weeks after Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti assured Kenyans that he would eradicate extrajudicial killings and disappearances with lobbies documenting over 1,080 cases last year alone.
In the New Year, we need to do several things to ensure the rule of law and access to justice for the poor.
We must change the narrative that a poor person in Kenya is a child of a lesser god when it comes to accessing justice.
The law must protect all of us — the rich and the poor — equally. And in the words of our national anthem, justice must be “our shield and defender”.
The first is fast-tracking the implementation of the National Coroners Services Act 2017, which came to light in June last year.
Among other things, it will provide an independent office tasked with investigating and holding inquests into violent, sudden and suspicious deaths.
A coroner’s office will provide complementary forensic medical science services to police investigations involving dead bodies and scene management.
This will bring about checks and balances in the investigation of deaths in police custody and/or at the hands of police.
Although there have been successful convictions, leaving the police to solely investigate extrajudicial killings raises doubt as to the enthusiasm and dedication put into it.
The law will reduce chances of police interference with investigations since a death reported to them is required to be reported to the coroner.
The coroner can appoint a suitably qualified medical practitioner, an expert, to conduct postmortem on the bodies.
Lastly, the coroner, if satisfied that the death occurred due to malpractice, will have the power and duty to notify the Inspector-General of Police and the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The second law that cries out for implementation is the Legal Aid Act 2016. It obligates the State to provide legal support to the vulnerable, marginalised and poor.
But two years after its passage, the poor languish without legal representation, awareness and advice.
Civil society and lawyers have played a critical role in providing legal support for the poor.
As some individuals walk to courts with a battery of lawyers, 80 percent of Kenyans cannot afford the services of an advocate.
The act is meant to ensure that people who cannot pay for legal services, not only in criminal matters but also in civil cases, access justice.
As Carilton has been laid to rest, let the implementation of the above two laws be among the top New Year resolutions for our leaders.
It was Mahatma Gandhi, who said: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” Poor and young lives matter.
This article was first published here