Kenya’s Judiciary Proposes Abolishing Death Penalty, Reduced Sentences

The chief justice of Kenya has sent a proposal to parliament that calls for removing the death penalty for the crimes of murder, violent theft and treason, saying the proposed changes aim to put the country’s laws more in line with international human rights standards.

Kenya’s Chief Justice Martha Koome is seeking changes to certain laws drafted in 1930, before Kenya gained independence, that seek harsher penalties for capital offenders.

Senator Samson Cherargei, a ruling party member of parliament, said he supports the proposed change to the death penalty.

“The right to life is very critical in our constitution and should not be taken in any format, even legally or illegally,” he said.

Bob Mkangi, a constitutional lawyer, said Kenyan laws need to change so that they reflect reality.

“For instance,” he said, “the death penalty … is there in our law books. But as Kenyans are aware, we sort of have a silent moratorium on the issue, because even those who have been condemned to death, no one has ever been hanged since the mid or late ’80s.”

The judiciary also advocates changing the life sentence penalty to a maximum of 30 years. Some lawmakers, including Cherargei, are opposed to reducing the length of life sentences.

Congested prisons have long been a problem in Kenya, and legal experts say correctional facilities are filled with inmates convicted of petty crimes who have become a burden to taxpayers.

Prisons should be correctional and rehabilitation facilities and not just a place to house and punish offenders, Mkangi said.

“There are alternatives for dealing with some of these offenses,” he said. “Not everyone needs to be locked up, which again has a cost implication for the taxpayer.”

Mkangi said that because the criminal justice system’s philosophy is correction and rehabilitation, it doesn’t make sense to sentence someone to life in prison.

“How can you say you’re rehabilitating someone if you say they will be condemned to death, or they will be condemned custodially forever?” he said.

Kenya’s judiciary also aims to revise legal codes to safeguard intersex individuals within the criminal justice system; transfer the burden of proof in cases of incitement to violence and disobedience from the defendant to the prosecution; and abolish some minor offenses.

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