City Hall
Caption for the landscape image:

Return of City magistrate court: Inside the trade-offs and negotiations

City Hall in Nairobi.

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

A deal between Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja and Chief Justice Martha Koome saw the City Magistrate Court moved back to City Hall Monday.

Five months ago, the court, in which those who broke county by-laws were prosecuted, ceased to operate after the Judiciary announced that such matters would be heard and determined at the Milimani Law Court’s county registrar's counter.

According to the agreement between CJ Koome and Mr Sakaja, the City Magistrate's Court was to resume normal operations Monday, but this was not the case even though the court’s doors were open.

Explaining the deal, acting Nairobi County Prosecutor Christine Ireri said that since the courts are under the Judiciary, the City Court has been opened as a new station to prosecute matters at City Hall, and it will be headed by Senior Principal Magistrate Rhoda Yator.

Among the other changes at the court are that the court officials will now manage daily operations using the Case Tracking System (CTS).

“They have appointed a new magistrate. The Judiciary will come with technology, including the CTS, with the clerks set to handle all the matters that come up. The Judiciary will now come with their staff because this is a new full-fledged station, a stand-alone station,” said Ms Ireri. Initially, Nairobi City County staff were deployed to the court.

The changes have dealt a blow to county attorneys, who will no longer have a say in the court as they did before when they were gazetted to prosecute matters.

“As the Judiciary implements the new constitutional dispensation and the ODPP (Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions) implements its mandate, we will now have officers from the DPP prosecuting our matters,” said Ms Ireri.

The county officers who were prosecuting matters at the court have since been redeployed by the county to the Office of the County Attorney.

“None of them have been made redundant. There is a lot of work in the office of the County Attorney, but we will have one or two of them liaising with the court officers, between the DPP and the judicial staff, just to ensure that these are the number of people we have arrested, they have been taken to court and these are the charges so that we can keep tabs on what is happening in the courts in matters that the counties are complaining about,” said the official.

On the said agreement, the county argued that there was no clear working framework on the modalities to be followed by the counties and the Judiciary on how to share the revenue collected from fines.

Ms Ireri maintained that the revenue tussle has never been a major bone of contention in the matter and that the focus of cooperation between the Judiciary and the county is not revenue. She also explained that the fines collected by the court have never been the main source of revenue for the county.

“We should not look at it from a revenue perspective. It is the government working with every arm of government to ensure that there is law and order in the city and that everybody is happy. Fines are a deterrent, they are meant to stop you from committing an offence and we cannot look at fines as a source of revenue,” she said.

However, the county had argued that it was losing about Sh1 million a day since the court was moved to Milimani Law Courts. This was acting county secretary Patrick Analo’s view when he appeared before the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee (JLAC) of the county assembly last year.

“We are appealing to this committee to help us find a way to reverse the operations of these courts back to City Hall. As we speak, Nairobi does not collect anything from the people we arrest after committing mistakes. The county is governed by by-laws and it's really impossible for Milimani to impose fines,” he said.