What you need to know:
- Amnesty International-Kenya has partnered with the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) and the Paralegal Society of Kenya to offer legal aid through community awareness forums to Kenyans from informal settlements who continue to suffer from access to justice today.
Collins Ouma and Jacinta Mumbi Irungu would both be languishing in prison after they were falsely accused of robbery with violence by two officers in separate incidents in Nairobi had a local organisation had not offered them free legal aid.
After spending more than a year each in remand, they got help from International Justice Mission, Kenya (IJM) and were set free by the court on December 2014 and May 26, 2022 respectively.
Collins had been accused of stealing a police officer’s pocket radio and cell phone along Moi Avenue in Nairobi on the night of January 7, 2013 while Mumbi had been accused of stealing a vehicle by officers who were investigating the car’s theft.
The two were the victims of shoddy investigations by officers who took advantage of their inability to defend themselves from the onset and pay the bail terms demanded by court to secure temporary freedom as the cases continued.
They represent a growing section of the population who believe that not all Kenyans are equal before the law.
A survey commissioned by Amnesty International, International Commission of Jurists-Kenya (ICJ), Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR), Social Justice Centre Working Group and the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders that sought people’s insights about human rights in Kenya revealed that five out of 10 Kenyans believe that not all Kenyans are equal before the law and blamed the huge economic inequalities and corruption as the leading cause for that.
Other reasons included; discriminatory legislation, political division and ethnic divisions as other contributing factors. Only less than half, 37 percent agreed that Kenyans are equal before the law.
This overtime led to a low number of cases reported to the police across the country with the 2022 Economic Survey indicating that the number of cases that were eventually filed in courts in the financial year 2020/2021 stood at only 5.5 percent.
Lack of resources
The latest Ombudsman’s audit of the Criminal Justice in Kenya notes that a majority of detainees can languish in that situation for years due to their inability to afford the services of a lawyer. They also lack the resources to deposit bail to facilitate their release. Majority of these remandees are men under the age of 35.
“When poor defendants are more likely to be detained, it can no longer be said that the Criminal Justice System is fair and equitable,” the report notes.
To bridge this gap, Amnesty International-Kenya has partnered with the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) and the Paralegal Society of Kenya to offer legal aid through community awareness forums to Kenyans from informal settlements who continue to suffer from access to justice today.
This will be done through 10 clinics and community awareness forums at Kaptembwa Chief’s office camp in Nakuru, Soweto Grounds M’bungoni-Kazndani in Mombasa, Nyando Social Justice Centre in Kisumu, Awelo Chief’s Camp in Siaya, Kenya Red Cross Grounds Kanduyi in Bungoma, Garissa Police station, Malindi town and Eldoret.
Nairobi clinics will be held on October 12 in Kibera and along Aga Khan Walk in the Central Business District.
“For sure you will see that we don’t have the Nyaris, the Muthaigas and the middle-class setups like Lang’ata, South C or wherever you choose to refer to as middle-class setup. It is common sense that those who are economically empowered can be able to afford an advocate.”
“Access to justice as a cardinal principle in the consonance justice agenda can only be achieved if those who it is presumed not to be available to are given the opportunity to feel the effect of the wheels of justice,” said Mwaura Kabata, the chairperson of LSK’s Public Interest Litigation and Human Rights Committee.
During the clinics, Kenyans will be taken through the trial process, informed of the implications of charges, how to intervene when a relative is arrested, get guidance on where to access pro-bono legal services and so forth by legal professionals from the LSK, Paralegal Society of Kenya and Amnesty International.
Currently, organisations offering pro-bono legal services include; LSK, the National Legal Aid Service (NLAS) under the Attorney General and the International Commission of Jurists, Kenya Chapter (ICJ), International Justice Mission (IJM)- Kenya amongst others.
“LSK will be conducting the Legal Awareness week across the country from October 24th during which members of the public will be accorded a chance to seek legal aid at all law courts in the country,” added Mt Kabata.
“Our prisons are congested by poor people who cannot afford lawyers and lack legal knowledge. This is an opportunity for anyone who has a matter or wants to learn to come out and ask all the questions they have,” said Ms Mary Airo, the National Coordinator of the Paralegal Society of Kenya.
Efforts by the judiciary to boost faster completion of such cases have led to the establishment of the Small Claims Court which is aimed at easing the backlog on civil and economic cases valued at sh1 million and that can be resolved through “simple, inexpensive and expeditious” procedures thus enhancing access to justice.
These include; property damage, loss and claims from personal injury and breach of contracts and should be finalized within 60 days of filing.
President William Ruto has promised to scale up allocations to the Judiciary by an additional sh3 billion annually for the next five years to ease their operations and fast-track delivery of justice to Kenyans.
The 10 Freedom and Legal Empowerment Clinics are part of Amnesty’s 10-year anniversary activities.
“The results of a new Legal Freedom Survey will be released at the Clinics held in Nairobi and handed to the Chief Justice, Director of Public Prosecutions, Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) and KNCHR,” Mr Irungu Houghton, Executive Director, Amnesty International-Kenya said.