“Is your client focussed?” A newly admitted advocate comes face to face with corruption in Kenya’s criminal justice system


This is a true story told to me by a young advocate who was admitted to the bar early this year. Names of persons involved have been changed for security and legal reasons.
Weary and torn, Kevin walked into his lawyer’s chambers. His wobbly eyes dragged him to the reception desk. He was looking defeated. His mien bespoke mental disquiet.

Kevin is an architect. He plans and designs buildings. He shapes windows and fits doors on paper. One of his customers who interacted with lawyer Lucy on their way to Migu Police station praised Kevin as an established professional, properly trained and vastly knowledgeable. But a renowned Rhumba singer is an armature in the world of Hip Hop.

Kevin has never before shared the same room with law. He’s only watched them being made by the parliament. He had also read in the newspapers how judges put law into perspective. Hence, he had a hint on what law is. He believed law is a prostitute; it gives and takes, sweet but dangerously slippery.

Alive to his partial appreciation of the judicial processes and court procedures, Kevin knew he needed company to Migu Police station. He had been summoned to record a statement with the police after his staff mate claimed he physically assaulted her.

But Kevin was not the only greenhorn in the room. His lawyer Lucy was also a complete novice in the extra-legal issues involving the police.

Lucy was admitted to the bar in January this year. Before her admission, she only formed part of the public gallery in the courtroom. She had never had audience of any judicial body. Though she was already immensely informed in the field, especially in so far as legal principles are concerned, it turned out her lecturers did not teach her everything.

Outside the classroom, Lucy only learnt the profession’s parlance – the sweet names and monikers judges want to be referred to, the hard but respectful way counsels attack opponent’s cases, the linguistic circles witnesses are taken through to illicit favourable answers from them and, of course, the bowing that makes judiciaries think that they should be getting tithes besides salary. This is all Lucy knew. It is all a practicing advocate should know.

But in the Kenyan jurisdiction, fishing is not just the casting of the net into deeper waters. One also needs to throw a piece of meat metres away for crocodiles to give him fishing space. Lucy learnt this the day she accompanied her client to Migu police station.

She arrived at the station holding a file on one hand and a purple handbag on the other. Her client – a visibly restless man – was by her side. He was carrying a copy of the Daily Nation and an iPhone. These two are extra-legal defences, for we know (anecdotally) that police officers fear informed people.
In the office.

The duty officers were a lady wearing a navy blue sweater on a hot afternoon and a naïve looking man whose wide smile fulfilled the purpose of the 32-teeth recruitment requirement.
“Habari zenu, semeni,” the lady officer (let’s call her Jane) said to her visitors. Her tone was a clear message that she had no room for social niceties.

“Tuko salama,” Lucy said in a friendly voice. She offered a smile and played with her lips shyly. Her face innocently brimming with respect, fingers inoffensively on the waist-height office desk. Her eyes begging for Jane’s next sentence.

Had Jane studied body language, she would have noticed that the person speaking to her was an innocent lawyer; a principled woman who believed in the beauty of her ideal world.

“Huyu anaitwa Kevin. He’s my client. He is here to record a statement regarding an assault case reported to you yesterday. Mimi ni wakili Lucy.”

Moris, the male officer, bolted from his wooden bench. His eyes on Kelvin.

“Nitadeal nao,” Jane asked Morris to excuse them.

“No! Hii si ni ile case ya watu wa gender?” Morris resisted Jane’s request.

“Hii ni case kubwa. Watu wa gender wamekuja hapa mara tatu,”

“Ok,” Lucy interrupted the officers, “Kevin aliambiwa akuje leo and that is why we are here.”

“No, Wakili,” Morris said to Lucy, “we respect you so much and we hope you are going to respect that respect we give to you. We are arresting your client.”

Lucy tried her best to shield her client from arrest. She quoted all manner of statutory provisions, case laws and legal principles regarding arrest, particularly on the issue of cognizable and non-cognizable offences. All these sounded Greek to the officers, or may be the officers’ personal opinions were the law. Kevin was locked in.

What ensued next is the reason I wrote this blog. I’m sorry it came at the tail end of the article. But I’m sure you appreciate the fact that there is no flesh on the head of the fish.

Kevin was to be released on police bail. The cash bail is at the discretion of the police officers and as such negotiations and the delicate question of balancing interests followed. The discussion took corners, turns, bends and came off potholes and bumps, wandering in the field of factors to consider: ‘he will interfere with the investigation’, ‘the victim is of fragile gender’ ‘this is a misdemeanour’, ‘the public is watching’ ‘he is a responsible citizen with permanent residence and business in Kenya.’

After minutes of negotiations, it was agreed that the cash bail would be Kshs. 10,000. But this did not bring the talks to an end. Another battle followed immediately – virtues v reality, law v high-handedness, justice v law enforcers, honesty v Kenya.

“Is your client focussed?” Jane put a question to Lucy while pretending to be looking for a pen in the drawer. She had deliberately dropped it on the floor to hide her evil face from Lucy’s.

“Yes, he is focussed. He runs a construction firm and he is a responsible parent,” Lucy attempted to answer the question.

“Sio hiyo. I said focussed,”

“Focussed? Perhaps you explain what that means,”

“Kwani si unajua?”

“No. Sikupati,”

“Madam, for how long have you been in practice?”

“Just months,”

“Ok. Since nimekubali Kshs. 10,000 as cash bail, tutaandika nusu,”

“What do you mean?”

“Kshs. 5,000. The other half ni allowance yangu,”


“Madam, we’ll release your client but you know my cut from the deal. Aren’t you a lawyer?”

“I am but that’s not right,”

“Fanya hivi, we can share that Kshs. 5,000. I take Kshs. 3,000, you get Kshs. 2,000. Kuwa mjanja. I will write Kshs. 5,000 on the release form,”

“No, askari! I won’t accept that. Plus, the money is not mine. It’s the client’s. He knows that at the conclusion of his case, he will reclaim the amount using the receipt you will write for me.”

Making Good use of the Alphabet

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I am a lawyer by school and a writer by talent...God is omnipresent, Jesus is in heaven, Satan resides on earth, Literature lives in me.

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