Judges order first Kenya trial to run until November

International Criminal Court (ICC) judges have decided that the trial proceedings for Kenya’s Deputy President William Samoei Ruto and journalist Joshua arap Sang will run until November, with only one week’s break in between.

The judges made their decision on Thursday after receiving an application from Karim Khan, the lead lawyer for Ruto, asking them to consider holding the trial for two weeks when it opens on September 10 and then taking a break for two weeks. Khan asked in an August 20 application that Trial Chamber V(a) judges consider a trial schedule of two weeks on, two weeks off until the Appeals Chambers makes a decision on whether to allow their client to be absent from some of the trial hearings.

Khan said the proposed schedule took into account on-going and upcoming trials, including the other Kenya trial involving President Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta that will be straining the ICC’s limited court facilities in the coming months.

Trial Chamber V(a) rejected that proposal. Instead, they said they will sit on a daily basis from September 10 to October 4 and then take one week’s break. They said they will resume proceedings on October 14 and continue sitting until November 1 so that they can make way for the trial involving Kenyatta, which is scheduled to begin on November 12.

“The Chamber agrees with the Ruto Defence that there may be a need to modify the sitting schedule in the present case once the trial in the Kenyatta case commences. However, there is no such need at the present time,” the judges wrote in their decision.

“On the contrary, the Chamber stresses the significance of advancing as much as possible before the constraints identified by the Ruto Defence affect the present case,” they said.

Before Ruto’s lawyers made their application, Sang’s lawyers sent an email to the judges making their own proposal for the trial schedule. They proposed that their case should be heard in alternation with the Kenyatta trial when it begins and in blocks of four to six weeks. Sang’s lawyers did not make a formal application beyond their August 19 email, which is referred to in the judges’ decision.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in an August 23 response to the Ruto application that she was not against the on-off approach proposed, with a caveat. She said the sessions should run long enough to allow a witness to testify and be cross-examined without interruption. Bensouda proposed that each session runs for three to four weeks based on her estimate on how long it would take a witness to testify, be cross-examined, and so on without long breaks in between testimony.

Wilfred Nderitu, who is the Common Legal Representative for Victims, also said in an August 27 submission that he had no objection to an on-off schedule but associated himself with the prosecution’s proposal of three to four weeks of hearings.

This week both defendants have also filed signed declarations that they understand the charges they will face at trial, a requirement the judges made when issuing their August 9 general directions on how the trial will be conducted. Sang’s lawyers made their submission on Sunday. Ruto’s lawyers’ filed their submission on Monday, including an electronic copy of his signed declaration.