In a February 2021 article, “Too low, too slow: SA’s rhino convictions”, author Jacqueline Cochrane writes, “the real war on poaching happens in the courtroom”. Without discounting the efforts of countless others in the fight against wildlife crime, we are totally in line with her thinking. It is in the courtroom where the rubber meets the road.
The courtroom is the “chokepoint” of the investigation and prosecution. There is no hiding the quality of the investigation through the witnesses produced or the physical evidence tendered. There is no hiding the caliber of prosecution, through their knowledge of law and passion for justice. There is no hiding the jurisprudential abilities of the presiding judge or magistrate through their rulings and decisions. There is no hiding the strengths and challenges facing the criminal justice system of which they are all apart.
Statistics are often used to indicate the health of the criminal justice process regarding wildlife crime but statistics are not enough and can be presented in such a way to tell only one side of the story.
The purpose of this section is to report on active cases that are presently before the Kenyan courts, to recount the nitty gritty of the trial as it progresses to conclusion. There are, of course, far too many to report on all, so a selection of cases will be presented, with the exception of major cases where all will be documented to a lesser or greater degree dependant on available documentation. The sub-categories have been sub-divided into ‘Cases involving less than 100 kilogrammes of ivory’, ‘Cases over 100 kilogrammes’ and ‘Cases concluded’.
A number of recent studies in Kenya have placed the conviction rate for wildlife trophy offences (ivory, rhino horn, pangolin) in the range of 65%. While on the one hand this seems to be very promising, there have been zero convictions in any ivory prosecution considered to be significant or with indicators of transnational organized crime involvement. Corruption, and not necessarily just by the players of the criminal justice process, is the reason.
Three years ago, BBC, ITV and PBS presenter, Liz Bonnin, was featured in an article “Liz Bonnin: ‘We must aim to make a difference”. She stated in that story that “the most powerful lesson of all came not in the bush, but in the courtroom” as she shadowed Faith Maina, a courtroom monitoring officer of Space for Giants. Bonnin learned “about the gaps in the judicial system, how much can go wrong even when poachers are caught and how they can get off without punishment.”
Bonnin continued: “my job as a communicator isn’t finger wagging, it’s about telling more stories, especially stories with a sense of ownership, so that the audience can see that there is much we can all do.”