Hats off to Kenyan judicial process


Today saw an 8 month sentence handed down in Kenya for a British aristocrat found guilty of killing a poacher. This case raised tensions in Kenya as the accused, Thomas Cholmondeley, was a descendant of Lord Delamere, one of the first white settlers in the country. The case has re-ignited debate about the position of white settlers in Kenyan society. For me, the most striking aspect of the case has been the thorough and sensitive handling of the case by the Kenyan legal system.

In the UK we are quick to sneer at the judicial process of overseas countries, without paying sufficient regard to times when legal systems stand firm in the face of robust challenges. This case undoubtedly proved such a challenge. The facts of the case are in dispute, however Mr Cholmondeley claimed that he intended only to fire warning shots to deter the poacher and inadvertently struck the man. His version was believed and he escaped a murder conviction on the grounds that his actions lacked ‘malice aforethought’. Only 1 man can know Mr Cholmondeley’s intentions that day, however his actions after the shooting would fit with his version of events. The accused immediately helped the injured man and drove him immediately to hospital. This fact seemed to weigh heavily on the mind of the court.

This was an extremely courageous judgment. There was a great clamour within Kenya for Mr Cholmondeley to be convicted of murder to send out a message of disapproval about the privileged position of a few white settlers in Kenyan society. The judge acknowledged these concerns but commendably distanced himself from them when considering Mr Cholmondeley’s case. It is hoped that observers in other African countries, most notably Zimbabwe, will learn from this excellent example and will keep political pressures away from their judicial systems.


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