Chief Justice David Maraga has raised concern over a trend where suspects appear in court heavily masked, saying it could jeopardise the administration of justice.
On Friday Mr Maraga said that while the right to privacy must be protected, the due process of justice may be hampered if suspects in criminal matters are not easily identifiable and connected to the charges they face.
In an internal memo dated May 17 and copied to his deputy Philomena Mwilu, Mr Maraga asked judges not to entertain behaviour that could put courts into disrepute.
“It has come to my attention that of late suspects taken to court to face various criminal charges have taken to hiding their identity by wearing dark glasses or covering their faces with hoods to make themselves unidentifiable,” said Mr Maraga.
He said that while Muslim women wear hijabs and other people wear religious attire, they often comply with court directions and have never sought to conceal their identities. “While exercising your individual and independent control of your courts, you must ensure that you are not seen to be perpetuating impunity by allowing egregious behaviour by the suspects, particularly when such behaviour could bring the court to disrepute,” he wrote.
Mr Maraga’s concern comes at the backdrop of a dramatic scene where Kenya Revenue Authority employees suspected of engaging in graft appeared before court on Wednesday while heavily masked by hoods, dark glasses and even veils tied over their faces.
Meanwhile, 38 Kenya Revenue Authority employees who had been detained for two weeks were Friday spared from spending another weekend in remand.
High Court judge Luka Kimaru directed that they be released on a Sh200,000 cash bail each.
The employees are being investigated over abetting tax evasion, among other charges.
Justice Kimaru said that he will give a detailed ruling on Tuesday. The Director of Criminal Investigations (DCI) had asked the court to detain the suspects for 21 days, but Senior Resident Magistrate Paul Mayova — who listened to pleas from both sides — ruled that they remain in custody for 14 days.
According to the DCI, 48 KRA employees were yet to be arrested despite investigations starting four months ago.
The DCI said that detectives need more time to complete their probe.
The 38 KRA employees, who had been in custody since May 10, had pleaded with the court to free them on bail.
Through their lawyers they claimed that allegations against them were politically instigated and that their continuous detention violated their right to freedom since no charges had been lodged against them.
Since they had been interdicted, they argued, they were not in a position to interfere with ongoing investigations.
However, 18 other KRA staff are still locked up.
Seven others, who have not been arrested, went to court to seek anticipatory bail.
So far, 56 KRA employees have been arraigned.
According to the DCI, some of the suspects had formed a social media group with the sole purpose of interfering with the ongoing investigation.
The DCI told the court that investigators had obtained orders to access KRA computer networks which include iTax, Legacy, Integrated Customs Management System, Simba 2005, Manifest Management System, Biometrics Access System and KNESWS.
The DCI said officers need more time to analyse 178 mobile phone numbers and M-Pesa statements.