What you need to know:
- On average, a Kenyan spends four cents to gain a benefit of Sh1 in the civil society justice initiatives.
- But the same mwananchi would have to spend Sh4.2 to gain a benefit of Sh1 in the court-based justice initiatives.
As the would-be presidential candidates prepare for the August General Election, it would be critical for them to incorporate access to justice and support to the criminal justice system in their manifestos.
The Constitution calls for enhanced access to justice for all. It says that the State shall ensure access to justice for all and, if any fee is required, it shall be reasonable and shall not impede access to justice.
Access to justice is a key deliverable for any government but, ironically, it normally appears as a paragraph tucked somewhere in most manifestos. Accessibility is pivotal in the delivery of justice, without which access to justice would still be a mirage for the poor and marginalised.
This lack of adequate support and funding to key institutions in the criminal justice system has made life harder for most Kenyans, especially the poor.
Research in nine counties by Katiba Institute and the University of Nairobi, “Scaling access to justice in Kenya: Cost and benefit analysis of justice initiatives”, whose findings were released last year found that the predominant cost, incurred by 60.78 per cent of the respondents in trying to access justice, is with respect to transport costs.
On average, a Kenyan spends four cents to gain a benefit of Sh1 in the civil society justice initiatives. But the same mwananchi would have to spend Sh4.2 to gain a benefit of Sh1 in the court-based justice initiatives. On a cost-benefit analysis, this does not make economic sense to a Kenyan who is also probably struggling to put food on the table.
Legal aid support
The high costs, coupled with other factors, have left most Kenyans at the mercy of faith-based organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in their quest to get justice.
By embracing innovative technology, such organisations have managed to support thousands of clients. For example, Kituo Cha Sheria, which offers legal aid support to the poor and marginalised, developed M-Haki, an SMS-based system through which it offers free legal aid support to 2,000 Kenyans annually on average.
With the dwindling funding to the civil society sector, it would be critical for our leaders to put in place the necessary support and funding to enable the efficient running of the criminal justice system. Inasmuch as we encourage alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to de-congest our courts, we ought to make our courts easily accessible to all.
As President Uhuru Kenyatta said in his New Year address to the nation, one of the irreducible minimums that we must embrace for the survival of our nation is upholding “a justice system that restores, not one that merely punishes. A system that heals, not one that deepens wounds. A system that seeks to improve the law, not one enslaved by the law.”
The media is usually awash with reports of Kenyans seeking compensation from the state, which can run into hundreds of millions of shillings. We must make our criminal justice system work.
Mr Biko-Abuya is a programme officer, Kituo Cha Sheria. [email protected]