The judiciary plans to build more than 100 new courts across the country by 2018 in a bid to deal with case overloads in the country and also bring justice closer to the people. Speaking in Bungoma law courts during the opening of the new court building that has 3 courts, chambers, a library and other offices, Chief Justice David Maraga said that the journey to build and refurbish courts begun in 2013 and would help ease the backlog of cases that have since ravaged most of the Kenyan courts.
“In this regards, we are presently constructing and rehabilitating over 100 courts in various parts of the country many of which will be completed in the next two years,” said Maraga.
He challenged the staff of the judiciary to improve service delivery to the citizens of Kenya as he said the improvement of infrastructure would only appeal to the citizens if they only received good service.
The CJ also spoke of his commitment to digitalize the Kenyan court system, saying that this would help a great deal in cubing cases of “lost files” that has since crippled the process of obtaining justice for many Kenyans adding that the digitalization process has already began, citing an example of himself who types most of his court cases before proceeding to issue a verdict.
“I have stated that the elimination of backlogs and automation of judiciary processes, fighting of corruption will be my key objectives in my tenure as the Chief Justice. Once we fully digitalize, it means we are not going to have files in hard paper. It means that the magistrate will have to read from the soft copy and no files will be lost,” he said.
The remarks came at a time when The Bungoma Law courts was facing a lot of challenges in their dispensation of justice. Currently, the court has a backlog of more than 4500 cases which await judgment. Of this, over 3000 cases involve family feuds while over 750 cases involve land issues. The court has also an acute shortage of magistrates and judges, with the only one magistrate left to handle land suits being forced to shuffle between Kakamega and Bungoma to administer justice.
Speaking at the event, Hon Justice Samuel Mukunya who is the head of station Bungoma law courts lamented of the understaffed court, saying that the lack of adequate staff has caused the courts to lag behind in its work. He also urged the judicial service commission to consider adding them more secretaries and typists as at the moment, the typists and secretaries present could not effectively handle the tasks at hand.
“At the moment, we are greatly understaffed in Bungoma Law Courts. We are urging the SRC to consider boosting our staff for a more effective service delivery process.
Justice Maraga promised that he would consider improving the staff at Bungoma Law courts. He pledged to send at least one more judge to help in the process of justice administration on land cases in Kakamega so that justice Mukunya could be focused on dealing with the Bungoma cases.
He also commented on the new court building, saying that it its opening was a grand step in the process of improving Bungoma Court system. “This court building becomes the latest in a series of new court buildings to be officially opened since the judiciary embarked on improving the infrastructure for courts. This new building will go a long way in alleviating the problem of space in this facility,” he said.
The chief justice also instructed magistrates and judges to ensure that all court cases begin on time, citing instances where justice had been denied by simply beginning court procedures late.
“I want to direct that all court sessions must start in time. I want to mention that starting on time has been a challenge to our people as the courts are starting very late, but from now, we don’t want to keep the people coming to seek justice in courts by starting very late,” he added.
Speaking at the same event, Bungoma governor, Kenneth Lusaka asked the courts to come up with well elaborated systems for dealing with election petitions. He said that since time and memorial, election petition have been used as a tool to divide Kenyans and he therefore urged the judiciary that since 2017 elections were just around the corner, having a standard procedure of dealing with the petitions that were bound to arise would help a great deal in keeping Kenyans united.
“We want to have a lot of faith in the judiciary because in Kenya people don’t accept results. Its either you rigged or you were rigged. So we shall be coming to your courts and we are hoping for justice so that every case is heard faster and matters determined expeditiously,” said governor Lusaka.
Lusaka asked the chief justice to help them set up a municipal court that would help in solving matters of devolved functions expeditiously so as to ease the work of the high court and other courts.
He thanked the judiciary for defending devolution as it has rescued many governors who have been taken to court on cases of impeachment and as governors they would continue working closely.
The need for alternative dispute resolution process among citizens was also addressed with both the governor and the CJ admonishing residents that this would help a great deal in dealing with the backlog of cases in the courts.
“We should also learn solving petty issues at our homes with local chiefs and village elders as this would help in the administration of Justice,” said Governor Lusaka.
As it was the children service week in the judiciary over 200 cases dealing in children were expected to be heard at Bungoma law courts, 47 cases in Vihiga law courts and Mumias law courts a total of 40 cases were expected to be heard.
Senior principle magistrate Teresa Odera who is the head of station Mumias law courts asked the judiciary to employ professional counselors who would sit in court so that they would be able to counsel the children, parents and also the magistrates and judges as some of the things they were hearing were very scary.
Bungoma law courts serves a population of approximately 1.3 million people and the opening of the new court building gives all the court users a beacon of hope in the process of justice. It was also the first court in the country the CJ toured in his first visit to local courts as a chief justice and now all eyes look unto him to see whether the change he proclaimed would blossom to a fruitful end.