When you have watched over a hundred episodes of ‘Suits’, ‘The Good Wife’ and are currently watching ‘the Good Fight’, you will start wondering, do what we see on these shows have any similarities with how Kenyan courts are run?
‘Do we have Harvey Spectres’ wit in our courts? Objecting to every question and with comebacks no one expects? “I refuse to answer that on the grounds that I don’t want to.”
‘Are there Jessica Pearson’s strutting the corridors of justice with their power walk, hanging on the six-inch heels elongated even further by their style?’
‘Where are the Donna Paulsen’s? Secretaries extraordinaire that come with a serving of sarcasm and wit?’
Once these questions get to your head, they will become like a seed planted in the medulla oblongata soil. With more watering (in this case watching more episodes), the seeds will do what they naturally do. Grow.
This was a constant thought at the back of my mind as I carried on my days until I decided, why not find out?
‘Enhe, why not find out?’
It’s in that thinking that I will remember I have or had (if he asks me ni nani? when I call) a friend by the name Kev who works/d as a court clerk.
I checked to see if I still had Kev’s number and the following conversation ensued.
“Hi, Kev? Long time? How have you been?”
“Good. In fact, great. Cannot complain.”
“Kev, do you still work at the courts.”
“I want to sit in, in a court session to see if it happens as we see it in the movies?
(Why do people always ask that when you are certain they heard what you said and the more appropriate question would be, ‘kai wina ngoma’?)
Being as I was the one in need, I repeated my request.
I heard Kev heave rather loudly on the other end, and I could imagine him shaking his head as he responded.
“Lydiah, sometimes you amaze me.”
“That makes two of us” I offered as way of explanation.
With that, I suggested the following Monday as the vist day but unfortunately, Kev was on leave and would only pop in later for a meeting.
However, since Kev is good peeps, he hooked me up with his colleague (Peter) while still terming my request as very odd.
That is how I made my way to the Milimani Law Courts on a gloomy Monday morning at precisely 8:00 am. Not even the slight drizzle that had started earlier in the day could put a damp to the excitement that was building up within.
After the gate screening, I torpidly walked to Peter’s office making sure to follow the spelt out directions. Getting lost in the courts was out of question. Looking at me making my way across those hallways, you would not be wrong to have thought I walked through those corridors every other day save for the constant checks on my phone to see if to turn right or left.
What greets you at every corner you make is a sea of folders. Small folders, big folders, black, grey, yellow, green, khaki folders, folders being pulled on suitcases, folders wrapped in paper bags and all other conceivable forms of folders. Most of these were securely tucked under the armpits of suits adorned by 90 percent of the people there.
While the friend applauded my enthusiasm at arriving that early, he informed me the court sessions would not start until 9:00 am, which gave me time to at least look for some breakfast.
At ten to nine, I was back to Peter’s office, with a full stomach and my whole being ready for the adventure ahead. Peter, however, tried to tone this anticipation down by stating he only had a court mention on his desk on that day. He must have read the disappointment I was trying not to show on my face because he offered;
“You can sit in today but also come back tomorrow(checks file). There are better cases scheduled tomorrow.”
“I planned for this day much earlier. It’s impossible just to cancel work the following day.”
To that, we proceeded to the courtroom for his mention. This was after a stern warning to maintain silence, try to sit at the back and even more importantly, keep my phone in silent mode.
“What about not laughing more than the judge?” I ask
He gave me one of those looks that indicated he would not consider that a question.
Frankly speaking though, haven’t you heard stories you are not supposed to laugh more than the judge in a courtroom? Sindio? Ama namna gani my friends?
It was evident he was not joking when he said this was not an interesting case. Once the judge entered the courtroom, the case was read out. One of the lawyers stood and stated his client was out because he was sick. He further explored the judge to be generous because apparently, this was the first time the client had not appeared in court.
“These non-appearances lead to cases lasting too long which consequently adds to the backlog of cases already lying in the courts.” The judge remarked
The lawyers were tasked to come up with a new hearing date which they agreed and set on three months later. Before I even had time to figure out who was the plaintiff, who was the defendant and who was everyone else, the case was called to a close leaving me still seated as everyone else marched outside.
“Could you take me to other courtrooms?” I asked Peter
“It’s ok; you can explore on your own. Just bow if you want to enter or leave an ongoing case and don’t forget to maintain your phone in silent mode. I am not about to come bail you out of the cells.” He warned.
With that, he set me free to walk the corridors of justice.
I sauntered through the hallways peeping at the different courtrooms in a quest for action going on, on the inside. I sat in, in a few of those leaving the last one when Kev texted he had arrived for his meeting.
“I want a ‘happening’ case,” I whine
“What do you mean by happening, Lydiah?” Kev asks
Deep down I was certain he understood exactly what I meant and was only sweating me to hear what definition I could come up with for ‘happening’. I went ahead to define happening with circular hand motions and creases on my forehead for emphases.
This must have satisfied Kev because he smiled and replied;
“It’s not possible to predict a happening case. “You just have to ‘bahatisha’”
With that, he walked off to his meeting leaving me to my exploration.
The next courtroom I chanced into had a PSV driver on the defendant’s chambers accused of hitting pedestrians (they were still alive thankfully). The judge burdened the driver to explain his demeanour on the road, his actions and the number of years he thought he deserved for the offence.
“Kwa kweli nilikosea. Naomba lakini usinifunge miaka mingi juu mimi ndio nategemewa nyumbani” The driver explained
“ooh, ulikuwa unagonga watu kwa barabara juu ni wewe unategemewa nyumbani?” The judge retorted
The amusing exchanges between the driver and the judge elicited giggles and the occasional laughter across the whole courtroom. For his efforts in explaining his actions and the blatant show of remorse, the driver was sentenced to one year behind bars, a fine and his licence revoked for some years. With that, he was whisked off by the policeman standing beside him.
Further down the hallways, I entered an ongoing case which also happened to be the most action I got to see on that Monday that was already warm and bright by then. The defendant, in this case, was a lawyer accused of forging documents to swindle land from his clients. The plaintiff had no lawyer, and his witnesses got to testify and also ask the questions.
“Yes, that is your handwriting. What kind of forgery is that anyway? I would have done a much better job if I was to forge a signature.” One of the witness testified eliciting laughter from everyone in the courtroom including the judge.
It was also in that courtroom that I got to learn that what one states and what one implies are two different things.
“So you say here that John was with you when you looked at the documents, right?” The lawyer asks
“Yes” responds the witness
“So that implies that John also got to look at the documents? The lawyer further questions
“No. I am not implying anything. All I said was, John was with me when I looked at the documents.” The witness snapped back
That back and forth went on throughout the whole time I was there, making my exit when the case took a breather.
On another floor, I chanced upon Samuel Wanjiru’s case that was in for a mention. The courtroom though the largest I had seen so far was overflowing with reporters, audience members, and cameramen snapping away. I spent a few minutes craning my neck at the door that was already spewing people out before I decided to move on to the less crowded courtrooms.
Whereas I got to sit in, in a majority of the cases I wanted to, some courtrooms were closed to the public with a policeman stationed at the door. I came to learn later that closed doors cases happen mostly for matters relating to children or those sensitive to national security.
Though fulfilling on the most part, I was disappointed to not see pompous lawyers interrupting a cross-examination to voice an “I object’ with the Kalinda’s (Private investigator in The Good Wife) coming in just in time to present new evidence and unequivocally save a losing case. The closest thing I saw to an ‘objection’ as it happens in the movies was in one instance where the defence lawyer stated ‘we don’t have that in evidence.’ She however did not even shout ‘I object.’
As I stood at the Milimani Law Courts gates at the end of that day completely famished and tired from the transverse it was evident that there are significant differences between the movies and what I saw in real life. There are no juries in Kenyan courts and the power walks and outfits are left to a select few.
What was startling however, was how much the judges wrote. That pen was constantly on paper with pages being turned furiously. This in turn limited the fast back and forth between the lawyers. Even as the lawyers talked, you could tell they were pacing it slower than their normal talking speed to give the judges time to write.
So, did the experience satisfy my curiosity you would ask? Most definitely. Until the next escapade rears its head.