When Justice Is Served From Behind Bars
We share the stories of two more of our Graduates - Meshack Ouma and Philip Mueke - who have overcome great challenges to study the law and ensure that justice is served in Kenyan Prisons.
Meshack was arrested in July 2013 and has been at Naivasha Prison, Kenya, for the last 6 years. Before coming to prison, Meshack had already completed his secondary school education and had performed well. Meshack is an incredibly warm and intelligent individual. He speaks with confidence and humor and demonstrates an impressive engagement with life and current affairs on the outside.
Meshack’s parents passed away when he was in high school. He is the eldest child with a younger brother and sister. He is one of our students who feels that, despite the difficulties he has faced over the last couple of years, perhaps his time in prison was meant to happen so that he could access APP's legal education programme.
In partnership with the University of London, APP provides the opportunity for prisoners and prison staff to study the law and obtain a degree [LLB]. Via our Justice Changemaker programme, more than a dozen individuals across Kenya and Uganda have graduated and this October we look forward to celebrating this achievement with ever more. Last year our Graduation ceremony took place alongside a TEDx event - Unlocking Justice - supported by global justice activists.
Law and Politics
Before prison, Meshack was an insurance computer executive, but he had always wanted to study law. However, due to losing his parents, he was unable to fund his university education. In addition to that, he felt that being a lawyer was an affluent profession and dreamed of being referred to as a “learned friend”; a term that many of those he looked up to were referred to as. Meshack talks of politics and the law as synonymous. He has always been interested in politics, and talks at length about the links between law and politics when it comes to legislative change and, particularly in a country like Kenya, the corruption that affects both politics and the law.
The Challenges of Studying in Prison
When asked what challenges he faces studying law from prison, he described not having access to the internet as just one of a number of challenges facing those studying law in prison. Challenges that few other university students struggle with. Despite the difficulties, Meshack still obtained his LLB.
“I am proud that I have my first degree. My family is proud that even though I have been to prison, I have achieved something,” he says.
As an APP trained paralegal, Meshack is committed to serving others at Naivasha Medium prison. He tries to work on 2-3 files a week, supporting inmates with their appeals and advising those in remand to enable them go through their trial process more informed about the law.
Vulnerable Without Access to Justice
Having been confronted with a legal system that is fraught with challenges and extremely difficult to represent oneself in, Meshack came to understand how vulnerable Kenyans are to their current legal system. Especially those without the resources to access legal advice and representation. He wants to educate people in the way the law works in practice and to defend the vulnerable. He further hopes that he will one day be able to pursue a masters in law and equally join the Kenya School of Law (KSL) to be admitted as an advocate of the High Court of Kenya.
”I hope to see more people resort for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) rather than taking all matters to court. This will help avoid unnecessary litigation, which will reduce the backlog of cases. This will also allow more accused persons get access to legal representation in court.”
Enjoying Certain Justice
Outside of his academic and legal commitments, Meshack enjoys playing badminton and table tennis. He enjoys R&B and classical music, and watching documentaries. He reads numerous political commentaries and biographies, and cites 'Certain Justice' by PD James as his favorite book. However, he admits, that as a romantic at heart, he also enjoys watching romantic films and reading novels about romance and love.
Meshack will be released in March 2020 and hopes that after his release, he will be able to start a family.
“I know it’s wierd, but coming to prison has made me undergo a transformation that I would probably never undergone.”
Philip Mueke is another APP’s law graduates. He has also trained as an auxiliary paralegal at Kamiti Maximum Security Prison, in Kenya, working in the APP law clinic.
Recently Philip dealt with a case of re-sentencing, where the accused had originally been sentenced to 25 years for an act of theft. Many prisons across Kenya and Uganda are full of those who are waiting for trial or serving extended sentences for crimes which, if properly represented, would lead to a much reduced sentence.
A Much-Reduced Sentence
An inmate named Okemo and two of his co-accused persons had been charged with the offence of robbery with violence in January 2017.
Okemo came to the law clinic where he gave Philip his file for perusal and drafting of the submissions. Philip read the file and believed the circumstances of the charge were closer to a case of handling stolen items.
Philip prepared submissions for Okemo in order to file an appeal, based on the above findings and the court reduced the sentence from 25 years to 10 years. On deduction of the time Okemo had already spent in custody, he has less than 3 years remaining until his release. Philip’s response, “To me, justice has been served.”
Joining the Changemakers
All around the world, those without the resources to defend themselves, mitigate their offence, or afford legal representation, is increasing. The Justice Taskforce Report estimates that in total, 5.1 billion people – two-thirds of the world’s population – lack meaningful access to justice.
In many countries, it is a lack of commitment and investment that leads a justice system to ground to a halt - resulting in a backlog of cases and overcrowded prisons. Our work seeks to place the power of the law in the hands of those who have come into conflict with the law. We want to see the rule of law upheld and justice served whatever the crime.
Whether it’s through a world-class education, legal skills training for auxiliary advocates, or supporting the professional development of justice officials, you can join these changemakers to bring access to justice to those who need it most.