1 February 2014

Kenya: Free Legal Aid for the Poor Would Be a Transformational Step


In an announcement which did not quite get the publicity it deserved, the new Chief Registrar of the High Court, Ms Anne Amadi spoke of plans being at an advanced stage to enable the poor of this country to have easy access to free legal services.

This was in reference to the Legal Aid Bill 2013, which will among other things, create an independent body to help the poor get free legal representation, as and when they need it.

It is common knowledge that Kenya is a country in which only those who belong to the middle class (and above) can afford legal representation; and thus only they can manage to procure justice through the courts, and defend their rights as enshrined in law.

Others are not so lucky. And in a country with 50% of the population living below the poverty line, this means that the majority of Kenyans simply cannot afford to have anything to do with the courts of law.

The population of Kenyan remand prison facilities consist mainly of people are who have been arraigned before the court, but keep having their cases postponed, for lack of legal representation. Many of these are people who would be out on bond, if only they had the means to arrange for it.

In the coast there are tens of thousands of so-called 'squatters' who - in the worst case scenario - are entitled to keep their land under 'adverse possession' laws; but such people are regularly evicted by hirelings of land owners, waving court orders, legally obtained in a court action in which the 'squatters' had no representation.

There are endless examples to be found all over the country of individuals or communities whose rights are routinely violated by those in positions of authority.

And so the significance of what Ms Amadi is championing is beyond exaggeration.

It would be truly transformational development if indeed a new dispensation was created in Kenya, wherein the issues of individual rights was completely divorced from the costs of instructing lawyers to take up your case.

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