Nairobi — A special court set up at Shimo la Tewa Prison is set to speed up the trial of suspected pirates, ease the workload for jail staff and cut costs. The courtroom, which is also handling other criminal cases, began its operations almost a month ago.
Refurbished at a cost of $22,000 (Sh1.7 million) by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the court will save the prison authorities from ferrying those on remand from Shimo la Tewa to Mombasa law courts, a distance of about 17 kilometres.
Mombasa chief magistrate Rosemelle Mutoka became the first judicial officer to conduct proceedings at the facility, named the Shanzu court.
The name Shanzu was adopted to help clear wrong public perceptions about prisons. Four piracy cases and several criminal suits were mentioned before Ms Mutoka in the courtroom. Currently, there are more than 100 suspected Somali pirates who are undergoing trial at the Mombasa law courts.
Speaking during the court’s opening ceremony, Mombasa resident judge Mohamed Ibrahim said it will enhance service delivery. Mr Justice Ibrahim added that it will help reduce delays and address security challenges.
A judicial officer who sought anonymity said: “This is a court like any other; it’s not only for suspected pirates.” A separate gate has been set up for the public, who will not have to pass through the prison’s main entrance.
The judicial officer said a magistrate is expected to be posted early next month to handle cases. “The magistrate will handle petty cases emanating within the vicinity; there is no need of taking them to Mombasa,” said the officer.
In an earlier interview with the Daily Nation, the officer in charge of Shimo la Tewa Prison, Ms Margaret Chuma, said the court would help cut costs of ferrying those on remand to the Mombasa law courts.
She noted that between 80 and 150 prisoners were ferried from the prison to Mombasa law courts daily but declined to disclose the costs involved.
The prison boss also said that UNODC had earmarked some money for the construction of modern cost-effective cooking facilities at the jail, which has more than 2,500 male and female inmates.
The refurbishment of the courtroom by UNODC has been seen by many as part of the reward to the country for allowing the trial of suspected Somali pirates.
Other projects set to be undertaken by UNODC include improvement of the archive section and refurbishment of basement cells at Mombasa law courts.
The Shanzu courtroom has been fitted with air conditioning systems and seats in the public gallery made of quality hardwood. The courtroom, whose floor is tiled, has a separate room for witnesses, which is connected to the witness box.
“This is one of the best courts in the country,” said one of the security officers. The court – which has a magistrate’s chambers, a registry and a prosecution office – also boasts an ample parking yard for litigants and advocates.