By Janet Sankale
Kenyan lawyer Paul Gicheru’s first status conference will go on as scheduled today, Friday, September 24, after the International Criminal Court dismissed his request to suspend the session for what he termed as an “unfair” judge.
On September 17, 2021, Gicheru, through his counsel, filed a request to temporarily stay the proceedings as he sought to have Presiding Judge Miatta Maria Samba disqualified from the case. The defence argued that her appearance in the case would cause her to form an opinion on the case due to her previous engagement in the Kenya investigations that resulted from the 2007/2008 post-election violence.
Judge Samba had earlier responded to Gicheru’s concerns about her former employment at the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP), stating that she had never gathered evidence or interviewed witnesses, explaining that her job was only on matters of logistics.
Gicheru further argued that Judge Samba’s rulings would jeopardise the fair trial of the defence and therefore requested that the status conference and all proceedings be suspended until the disqualification request was granted.
However, the court stated that the arguments presented by the defence had failed to meet the high threshold required and that a request for disqualification did not automatically justify a temporary stay of proceedings.
It stated that the planned status conference is procedural in nature and simply for the purpose of setting the trial date and not evaluating evidence that will form the basis of its judgment.
The judge stated that the defence had failed to explain how her prior employment with the OTP or her limited and purely logistical involvement in the Kenya situation would risk prejudicing the defence when it came to matters of trial management.
“The defence do not allege that their preparations for the status conference have been disrupted by the recusal request, nor that they will be unable to address any of the issues scheduled for discussion. In the interests of ensuring expeditious proceedings and facilitating ongoing preparations for the trial, the status conference should proceed as scheduled,” ICC Deputy Prosecutor James Stewart stated in his submissions.
The defence and the prosecution had agreed that Gicheru’s trial should commence in March 2022. However, the final date will be set by the presiding judge.
Gicheru, who is alleged to have been involved in a common plan to undermine the OTP’s case in the matter of Ruto and Sang by preventing prosecution witnesses and potential witnesses from testifying, will appear via video technology for his first status conference.