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Project Justice: “I was Set UP!”

“A wrongful conviction can happen to anyone [reading this] even in this room.” -Anon

Thinking about this gives me the chills. And not goosebumps that disappear after a few minutes. It is that kind of chill that runs down your spine and paralyzes your entire being. The kind of chill that takes you captive, when you stand in front of those young men, who silently whisper with their eyes that they are innocent. That you ought to save them, isn’t that what forensic evidence is supposed to do?

The What: Background to Wrongful Conviction

Visiting a correctional facility in Kenya “can do something to you”. As a free person, you are once again thankful for the freedom you so often take for granted. But then again, your soul becomes alive to the aching rigor that is wrongful prosecutions and conviction, when you hear moving stories of innocent people who are languishing there for weeks, months and years on end. People whose court files have mysteriously gone missing a few days to the trial and hence stay there. People who try to gather their own evidence but they cannot successfully air their grievances because of legal rigidities posed by the current legal system.

Listening to their case stories, you can’t help but notice that more could have been done in representing his/her case in court. 

Research shows that 86 percent of pretrial detainees in Kenya have no access to legal representation, despite the Legal Aid Act, 2016. And while pro bono advocates try to fill the gap, lack of resources to hire forensic experts and private investigative expertise leaves these advocates and their clients in a conundrum, seeking for loopholes in evidence presented by the prosecution. 

While we may want to wish this away, we cannot run away from the reality of wrongful convictions happening more commonly than we think. The biggest problem is that we have shifted our focus from quality to quantity. Prosecutors have become hellbent on pursuing convictions at all cost. Talk of forced confessions or coerced witnesses. Unreliable testimonies or eyewitness misidentifications. A biased analysis of available forensic evidence giving a false conclusion. 

The Why: Project Justice to the Rescue

“Indigent persons accused of capital offences are not often in a position to defend themselves on their own, identify weaknesses of the other side’s case, and identify arguments that favor their case.”- Jackson Abala Wekesa

The State expends a huge number of resources trying to prove their case in court. They have invested in investigators, government forensic labs, and prosecution teams. On the other end, the defense team may mostly consist of just an advocate (and especially state-provided) without adequate forensic backing. However, most wrongfully accused persons have a story to tell the court as well, and good “for defense” investigation and forensic services can just elevate their ability to tell this story. This is where Somo Group’s “Project-Justice” comes into play.

On a merit basis, “Project-Justice” provides an independent investigation support and review of the scientific evidence proffered. Forensic experts are called in to ascertain the strength and the significance of the available evidence from the prosecution. They then work with lawyers working on cases pro-bono, and using their findings, to assist in a legal defense strategy.

The How: An Opportunity for Collaboration

The Kenyan constitution recognizes and protects the right to state-funded legal representation by all accused persons in Kenya. This right has been espoused by the Legal Aid Act No.6 of 2016.

As a country, we are guaranteed access to legal representation to persons charged with capital offences. However, this said access can only be effective if it can be backed up with an equitable measure of investigative and forensic expertise as those committed to prosecute the case. Otherwise, the scales of justice are tipped in favor of the prosecution, for persons with little to no money for a balanced defense.

Various non-governmental organizations have come on board with legal initiatives to curb this, albeit with constraints in resources. Project Justice provides the perfect blend for pooling of resources of various firms, legal, forensic and civil alike, in a bid to attain accessible equitable legal aid services for persons charged with capital offences, and who do not have access to corporate-backed litigation teams. This is in line with the Somo Group’s commitment to ethically and professionally create social change as espoused in our national anthem.

Amkeni ndugu zetu

Tufanye sote bidii

Nasi tujitoe kwa nguvu…Tuilinde haki ifaavyo.

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