Kenya: Taskforce Says Elders' Role Key in Reducing Backlog of Court Cases

The alternative justice system (AJS) has been hailed for helping reduce the backlog of cases in courts and decongesting prisons that have been grappling with increasing number of inmates.

AJS engages councils of elders in dealing with cases, mostly those civil in nature, in accordance with laws, rules and practices that govern communities.

Justice Joel Ngugi, the chairman of the Taskforce on Alternative Justice System, said the elders continue to play a crucial role in the speedy resolution of cases that would otherwise take longer in court.

MOTORBIKES

Speaking while flagging off motorbikes donated by the Legal Resources Foundation to facilitate the elders' movement while discharging their mediatory duties, Prof Ngugi said the donations will go long way in ensuring that residents in the far flung areas are served with justice and in time.

The foundation also gave the elders from Samburu, Meru, Turkana, Borana and Somali communities seats and a container where they will be operating from.

Justice Ngugi, who was accompanied by the presiding Meru High Court Judge Alfred Mabeya, said recent statistics show that about 86 per cent of cases in the country are being decided by elders and through other alternative means.

While citing Isiolo as among the counties where AJS is very successful, he said the taskforce is looking into other means that Kenyans were using to solve cases out of court that are in line with the Constitution so that they are incorporated into the judicial system.

"Social justice can only be achieved through AJS and we appreciate the lead role that the council of elders continues to play," Judge Ngugi said during a meeting with the elders at Isiolo Law Courts.

FEWER CASES

Justice Mabeya said Isiolo courts have fewer cases than those in Meru as a result of embracing the alternative dispute resolution mechanism and called on the Njuri Ncheke council of elders to borrow a leaf from Isiolo.

The Isiolo court, which serves five areas, has 1,163 pending cases while Githongo court, one of the five in Meru, has 1,100 pending cases according to the judge.

"This shows how resourceful AJS has been. It has helped in resolving of many cases out of court and elders have apart from rendering decisions that are acceptable also helped in ensuring the warring parties co-exist with each other," the Judge said.

Justice Mabeya promised to have the elders given more offices at the Isiolo court premises once the modern four-storey building, whose construction is almost complete, is opened by Chief Justice David Maraga.

Legal Resources Foundation Executive Director Eric Mukoya said they had, apart from linking elders to the courts so that their decisions are sanctioned, come up with tools through which inmates request to have their matters listened to and determined by elders.

PARALEGALS

"We have paralegals who work in prison and courts to help in identifying cases or matters that should be referred to elders," said Mr Mukoya.

The foundation has been undertaking capacity building for the elders through trainings to ensure that they, while discharging their duties, apply relevant systems recognised by the State.

While appealing to counties to support the elders in the course, Justice Ngugi announced that a policy that will formalise and guide the operations of the elders will be launched on August 27 when the country will be celebrating 10 years since the promulgation of the current Constitution.

The policy will see elders who have been autonomously dealing with various cases recognised legally and their decisions respected by courts as long as they are in line with constitutional provisions.

The policy that seeks to promote AJS as a strategy of enhancing access to expeditious delivery of justice, will also enhance continued engagement of the elders by the Judiciary through trainings among other capacity building activities.

The policy will adopt into formal justice system, traditional, informal and other mechanisms used in administration of justice in Kenya as long as they do not contravene human rights and the Constitution.

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