Kenya: Solve Domestic Abuse Cases Out of Court, Magistrate Says

A senior magistrate in Malava, Kakamega County has told local residents to seek alternative dispute resolution processes for domestic violence cases in an effort to reduce congestion in courts.

In what may be seen as a strange directive by an officer of the court, Principal Magistrate James Nyakundi has advised residents to avoid solving their differences through litigation and instead seek alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.

He said most cases he handles involve domestic assault, which he reckons can be solved outside the courts.

"Many people including couples are rushing to the courts to seek justice which can be obtained from the villages. Alternative dispute resolution mechanism is the most effective way to resolve some of the disputes that are brought before court," he stated.

While terming some as 'petty cases', he said these had a way of damaging relationships, tarnishing reputations and may lead to loss of money and time if managed through the litigation process.

"Even if there are differences in the villages, the solution is not fighting, injuring one another or murder. Most of these differences can be solved amicably from the village without involving the police and arraigning in court," said Mr Nyakundi.

His comments, however, come despite a reported spike in various forms of gender-based violence cases in the country as more people were forced to stay home due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In April, for instance, Chief Justice David Maraga raised alarm over a shocking increase in the number of sexual offence cases reported. He noted that in some cases the perpetrators were close relatives, guardians or persons living with the victims.

However, Mr Nyakundi says the courts should be used as a last resort after exploring all other avenues of dispute resolution.

He noted that due to Covid-19, the government was avoiding crowding people in one place, including police cells and prisons, hence the need to explore alternatives for litigation that can nip lawsuits in the bud.

While urging locals to work and relate amicably with the police, Mr Nyakundi said courts do not exist to jail people but to correct behaviour in society.

"We aim at de-congesting the prisons and police cells in these times of Covid-19 and wouldn't want every small case to be forwarded to the court for litigation. Let us appreciate the need to solve our differences from the village level as this will minimise the high costs of resolving our disputes," he added.

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