So, this year i began doing my pupillage. For those who don’t know what this is, pupillage is a mandatory apprenticeship programme all aspiring advocates must go through in order to get admitted to the bar. It’s a 6 month program that takes place after you have done your bar exams and it consists of working in a law firm that teaches you the actual skills needed to be a lawyer as opposed to what the 4 years of university and 1 year of law school have taught you. It’s not the best paid gig in the world with salaries ranging from nothing, where your pupil master may say that you are gaining experience forgetting that a while back in America there were a lot of black people who gained bales of experience in how to pick cotton-another similarity? They also had masters, to 30,000 shillings which is the high end of the spectrum and spoken about with wonder in the eyes of all other pupils, pupils being paid 16,000 shillings are much better off than most of their colleagues.
That’s not what this is about though. I got asked by a friend if court is like Boston legal, a big part of pupillage is going to court if you are working with a firm that deals with litigation (which is actually just one sector of the legal profession though the most interesting to portray in fiction so it’s the one that gets the most screen time.) the answer is not really. I can’t imagine that even in America courts are like Boston legal or that hospitals are like grey’s anatomy or white houses like Scandal. However just to highlight the differences I thought I would take all y’all through an average criminal case (completely fictionalised.)
The crime: stealing by servant contrary to section 281 of the penal code. This offence is exactly what it sounds like. Someone who has been employed steals something belonging to their employer and it is probably exactly as common as at least one person in the world thinks, especially if this is a person who has done research on the crime using control groups and avoiding pitfalls like confirmation bias in tabulating their results, let no one fault the importance of the scientific method in establishing facts.
In this scenario the lady, let’s call her Joyce has been working for a huge multinational mobile phone company. Her salary is double that of the median pupil and her responsibilities are huge. Not just at work but at home too, her son has just been admitted to university and she needs fees to help set him up. Her daughter is at that age where she begins to see things that other people have and wonder why she doesn’t have them. She’s extremely beautiful and Joyce is worried that she will find other ways to make this money if her mother can’t provide what she needs. For, you see Joyce’s daughter is a headstrong girl with a smile that could melt the heart of the last bouncer who kicked you out of a club. She always has been. Joyce has a colleague named James who comes up with a great idea to defraud the company. He is kind of a tech wizard and has found a way to take 1 cent off of every mobile money transaction for numbers ending with the digits 356, all he needs is Joyce’s access codes. This scheme will run for a short time. A month at most and net them millions. Not so much that they will immediately be caught but enough that Joyce can both take care of her son’s fees and make sure her daughter does not resort to using her beauty as a way to be comfortable. Just 1 cent from every user.
Joyce does not want to do it at first but she comes around to it. It’s not much money after all; she can hardly feel that it’s immoral to take 1 cent off of people’s transactions for one month. It could add up to maybe 10 shillings per user for the most prolific user of their money transfer system.
They get caught though because without getting caught then this would not be a story about court. Some companies will forgive employees if they return their ill-gotten gains however the new CEO of the mobile company is a vindictive man. Let’s make him short and badly shaven. Let’s give him ill-fitting suits and add a backstory of how he connived to depose his predecessor who was a tall man of a deep baritone and infinite charm. Let’s say he shouts at his employees and that he treats people as if all their worth could be tied up in what they make. Let’s also say that his company is a reflection of himself. It’s a company that we want to lose this case because that’s how Boston legal would play it. They would want you to forget that a crime had been committed and that if you root for one criminal you end up rooting for them all. Even if you are not convinced that Joyce should win, assume you are. The company then twists the arm of the government until they put their best prosecutor on the case. Which is done by assigning it to courtroom 5 which she works out of, she’s not a bad person. She’s just a believer in the necessity of justice no matter the circumstances. The reason she’s such a hardliner has something to do with her past, a secret that will come out as the story courses on, a secret that will make us both understand and almost root for her. If only she wasn’t a white knight in thrall to such a ruthless emperor as justice the corporation.
Joyce needs a lawyer too and she gets a young lawyer because this is fiction and we have enough old people in this story already. Let’s throw in a young man fresh out of law school. This man will in fact be the author’s doppelganger in the story a version of who he is, actually just who he wants to be or who he is afraid of becoming because then there is so much more room for the author to play around with him.
Joyce is arrested on the 24th of February 2014(in criminal cases the year is extremely important.) the police were notified by none other than our CEO who was missing his own daughter’s graduation in order to look over the books of the company. Because he’s the type of man who can be found obsessively counting his money while the things that are really important slip through his hands. He suspects its Joyce with no evidence other than the fact that her access codes were put in the computer. The police are called in and they do their investigations. They obtain phone records showing that Joyce has a suspicious habit of calling people near midnight, in fact the same person over and over. The number is an unregistered number and they find that after calling this number she may send some money to another number. (This detail becomes important when during the trial Joyce’s dashing young lawyer cross-examines the policeman calling his attention to a statement by one of Kenya’s experts in mobile phone communication: a CEO of a cell company who said “Kenyans have strange calling habits”…extremely dramatic moment this, keep it in mind if I fail to mention it again.) As soon as Joyce is arrested she calls her son because their father died a while back and she has no one but her mother back in ushago who is suffering some brain disease and is only lucid as the midnight hour approaches because of the cooling effect at that time. Her son runs to town, ok takes a matatu there is such a thing as tugging too many heartstrings. He walks into the first sign for a lawyer’s office he sees. He knows enough about the legal system to know his mother needs a lawyer. He gives his sob-story to the receptionist who can tell he doesn’t have much money and turns him away. He begins to walk disheartened (he doesn’t know his mother has millions squirreled away and in a delicious twist she cannot tell him because she doesn’t want any of her children seeing her as a thief.)As he walks someone taps him on the shoulder. Here is our young lawyer hero. He was sitting in the reception of the law firm waiting for an interview when the boy came to tell his story. He heard the story and his soul wouldn’t let him stay and do the interview when there was someone here so in need of help (at this point the author substitute far surpasses everything the author could possibly be.)
The lawyer called Lex because symbolism is so very important asks the young man what the problem is and he is told that Joyce was arrested.
“My mother could not have done this and I have no idea what to do, I just have no idea, I don’t know…”
They walk to the police station and the scene changes to the next day as Joyce is being brought up for charges. She is in courtroom 5 before magistrate Mutheu. Kenyan courtrooms are bustling places, full of energy and life. In the morning when ideally everyone has to be there, the criminals, the accused, the witnesses, the police, the prosecutor, the defence lawyers and their pupils there is barely space for sitting. The magistrate sits on an upraised bench at the far end of the courtroom. It’s a tiny room, smaller than most classrooms in schools around the world. In fact at normal classroom spacing with desk mates and all it would sit maybe 20 people comfortably. In front of the magistrate and at ground level there is a small desk where sit the court clerks. They handle files for the magistrate and help her set court dates. Their desks are cluttered and while hearings go on most of them will be seen dozing because they find their workday incredibly boring. To the right of the magistrate is the witness stand. The accused are held in the dock opposite the witness stand. In front of this is a long table with chairs close to it. This table is known as the bar and only qualified advocates can sit here. After this is a bench that is usually reserved for advocates but really anyone in a suit and confidence can sit here. There are about 5 more benches after this then the door. Joyce’s matter is called; she has been informed by her son that there is an advocate willing to represent her.
“If it please the court my name is Lex appearing for the accused. I would like to make a request for bail under section 123 of the Criminal Procedure Code. The accused is a woman with deep roots in the community. A son and a daughter undertaking their education here and this is the first time she is appearing in a court of law in any capacity there is thus minimal flight risk.”
Looking harried the magistrate waits for the prosecutor to respond.
“We urge you not to give bail in this case. The accused is charged with stealing millions and the complainant rightly feels that the accused may abscond if she is allowed bail.”
“Your honour this is excessive on the part of the prosecution. The accused has an old mother who depends on only her for livelihood. In addition with the experience we all have in our criminal courts we cannot justifiably allow someone to be held for the duration of their trial.”
The magistrate then makes her ruling with minimal fuss. She speaks slowly; an octave lower than is convenient for anyone to hear what she has to say. It’s a trick she has picked up that magically means her courtroom is one of the quietest in the country.
“I must agree with the young man in all except his claim at having experience in our criminal courts unless he is referring to a career before the one he has at present. Bail is set at 50,000 shillings.”
The next few scenes show the incredible social networking and fundraising skills of Joyce’s two children when life has them against the wall. A few thousand retweets, Facebook likes, mobile money transactions (some from numbers ending in the digits 356) later and they have raised bail. The obvious plothole is that if her children could raise money so quickly and legitimately why then did she need to turn to a life of crime. The unfortunate answer is that it’s because those two plot points though contradictory are the only way I could think to move the story forward. There probably could have been a way to resolve the contradiction. Maybe a brother who borrowed the money or a chamaa group that donated which would have made more sense but then I thought of social media first and it’s nice to have something that roots your story in the present so plothole stays.
Now the trial begins. This is the real drama. The meat of a legal story. The challenging of wits between Lex and his opponent Justina. It all begins with a mention, the date for which has been set for the 1st of April 2014. Lex finds a job in the meantime but makes time for this case. At 9 in the morning he makes his way to the courtroom, he and the client have become friends. They have had strategy meetings where she tells him the truth. However Lex as befits his name is more concerned with legality than morality. He will defend a guilty person because he believes strongly that the state must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt any charges they choose to bring. If any lesser standard is put forward or expected of the state then there is a chance that they will start locking up people they don’t like, people who don’t look like them and very soon there will be a woman who is about to be stoned to death and the only words that save her life are “he without sin cast the first stone.” However today he has not prepared his opening statement or his cross-examination, or really anything because he knows what a mention is.
After a few other mentions the court clerk yells out “criminal case number 356 of 2014, republic v Joyce.”
“The case is coming up for mention.”
“Is the accused present?” asks the magistrate
“My name is Lex appearing for the accused and my client is present.”
“Ok, let’s set another mention date to set the trial date, when can we do this?”
“10th may” says the court clerk.
“That date is convenient for me.” Says Lex.
“Matter set down for mention on the 10th of May. Criminal case number 908 of 2010, republic versus…”
Joyce and Lex leave. The next mention date is 40 days away.