Kenya: Court of Appeal Abolishes Life Imprisonment


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By Godfrey Munoko

Nairobi: The Court of Appeal in Kenya on Monday, July 10, abolished the life sentence and declared it unconstitutional in a ruling that could affect past criminal cases.

Justices Pauline Nyamweya, Jessie Lesiit, and George Odunga delivered the landmark ruling while hearing the case of Julius Kitsao Manyeso versus the Republic (2023). The ruling sets a significant judicial precedent.

The three-judge bench ruled that it was unfair to abolish death sentences only to have convicts spend their whole life behind bars.

They further argued that a life sentence goes against the aim of conviction which is rehabilitating convicts.

“We are equally guided by this holding by the Supreme Court of Kenya, and in the instant appeal, we are of the view that having found the sentence of life imprisonment to be unconstitutional, we have the discretion to interfere with the said sentence,” the bench ruled.

A magistrate court had handed Kitsao a life sentence for allegedly defiling a minor, and his efforts to seek legal redress at the High Court failed.

In a last attempt to set himself free, Kitsao filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal, where the bench ruled that jailing a person is to deter, rehabilitate, denounce, or retribute for the offence committed.

As such, Kitsao being given a life sentence went against the purpose of issuing jail terms.

The Court of Appeal noted that a magistrate court handing Kitsao a life sentence was akin to giving him an outlawed death sentence.

“For all practical purposes, in terms of execution of the sentences, life sentence, and death sentence seem to mean the same thing in this country,” the bench ruled.

As such, Kitsao was ordered to serve a sentence of 40 years for deterrence and rehabilitation to run from the date of his conviction.

The 3-judge bench, in its judgement, also relied on the famous Francis Karioko Muruatetu versus the Republic case.

A 2021 Supreme Court ruling determined that handing a life sentence to Muruatetu for murder was out of sync with the progressive Bill of Rights in Kenya’s 2010 Constitution and an affront to the rule of law.

The Supreme Court upheld a ruling by the High Court in 2017 declaring that the mandatory death penalty for murder, imposed on Muruatetu, was unconstitutional.

Muruatetu 1, it underlined, equally applies to the imposition of a mandatory indeterminate life sentence which denies a convict facing life imprisonment the opportunity to be heard in mitigation.


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