Thousands of cases choke courts despite cleanup drive


Undecided cases that have been in the court system for over one year since they were filed dipped just eight per cent in the last fiscal year despite recent initiatives to improve service delivery in the Judiciary.

The total case backlog stood at 315,378 in the financial year 2016/17, down from 344,659 cases in the previous fiscal year, reveals a Nation Newsplex review of Judiciary annual reports.

Out of these, one in six or 52,352 cases had been in the court system for over 10 years since they were filed, the same ratio as the previous year. A fifth or 66,214 cases remained unresolved for between five and 10 years, a third or 113,766 suits were undetermined for two to five years and a quarter or 83,046 cases had languished in the justice system for one to two years.

There has been an overall decline in all the categories except for corruption-related complaints, which increased to 37 cases in fiscal year 2016/17 up from 32 the previous year, and delayed orders, which rose to 23 complaints from 21.

Backlog cases in the Supreme Court fell by almost two-thirds (59 per cent) in the last financial year, the sharpest decline recorded by any of the seven courts. It was followed by the Environment and Land Court (31 per cent), the Magistrate Court (nine per cent), Kadhis' Court (eight per cent) and High Court (six per cent).

However, backlog cases spiked 12 percentage points in the Employment and Labour Relations Court and one percentage point in the Court of Appeal.

A quarter of the unresolved cases in the Court of Appeal, a-third in the Magistrate Court and almost half (44 per cent) in the High Court had been in the system for over five years.

In contrast, the Supreme Court did not have any lawsuits that had been in the system for more than five years for the last two financial years while the Employment and Labour Relations Court and Kadhis' Court did not have any case in the courts for more than 10 years in 2016/2017.

Given the slow progress in addressing the backlogs it is no wonder that the top complaint received by the office of the Ombudsman is slow delivery of service.

The office received 3,005 complaints in the last fiscal year, down 16 per cent from 3,586 received the previous year. Out of the complaints received, slow service delivery was the highest at 31 per cent, followed by missing files at 26 per cent and poor services at 17 per cent.

But there has been an overall decline in all the categories except for corruption-related complaints, which increased to 37 cases in fiscal year 2016/17 up from 32 the previous year, and delayed orders, which rose to 23 complaints from 21.

The State of the Judiciary and Administration of Justice Report (2016-2017) attributes the decline in complaints in most categories to several factors, including employee sensitisation on service delivery, the implementation of a performance management and measurement framework in the Judiciary and an increase in the public engagement and sensitisation exercises undertaken by the office of the Ombudsman.

According to the report, the increase in corruption-related complaints during the period is partly due to the extensive audit exercises undertaken by the Judiciary Internal Risk and Audit Directorate in various courts across the country.

Three quarters of the complaints were processed and closed successfully.

Most efficient

In the last financial year, a total of 344,180 cases were filed in the entire Judiciary, out of which 258,982 (three-quarters) were criminal cases while 85,198 (a quarter) were civil cases. This means three out of four cases filed in court were criminal-related.

In the same period, a total of 304,182 cases were resolved in all the courts, comprising 218,796 criminal cases (72 per cent) and 85,386 civil cases (28 per cent). This translated into an overall efficiency of 88 per cent.

The most efficient court was the High Court, where 20,553 cases were filed, accounting for about six per cent of all the new cases registered. It was followed by the Kadhis' Court, where 5,504 (two per cent) were filed, and the Magistrate Court, which was the busiest, registering 300,655 cases, thus accounting for about 87 per cent of the total case inflow.

The least efficient court was the Supreme Court, followed by the Employment and Labour Relations Court and the Environment and Land Court.

The number of filed cases indicates the demand for justice by the public and the number of resolved cases represents the supply of justice by the judges and judicial officers. The interplay between the two reflects court efficiency and productivity.

Petitions made up more than half (55 per cent) of all pending cases in the Supreme Court while half (51 per cent) of cases in the Court of Appeal were civil appeals. Probate cases constitute the biggest category of cases in the High Court and traffic offences represent the biggest proportion of criminal cases in the Magistrate Court.

While laying out his vision for the Judiciary at the start of last year Chief Justice David Maraga said he would preside over a service-oriented Judiciary.
During the launch of his strategic blueprint titled: Sustaining Judiciary Transformation: A New Service Delivery Agenda, the Chief Justice promised to enhance access to justice to all court users, integrity in service delivery, and a digital strategy to deliver true justice, new strategies to clear case backlogs, and a high-performing, independent and accountable Judiciary.

Low budget

For the past five years, the government has been allocating about one per cent of the national budget to the Judiciary, which falls well below the internationally recommended standard of 2.5 per cent. The Executive and Legislature’s share of the national budget stands at an average of 97 per cent and two per cent respectively.

While the Judiciary’s recurrent budget is largely covered from government funds, only 30 per cent of the development budget comes from the Treasury. The rest is derived from donor funding, particularly the World Bank’s Judicial Performance Improvement Project, which comes to an end in December 2018.

Speaking in Kwale County, where he laid the foundation stone for the construction of the county’s high court last week, Maraga urged Parliament to consider increasing the money allocated to the Judiciary to avoid disruptions in delivery of justice.

Absorption of the overall budget during the past three financial years has improved, with 97 per cent of the allocated expenditure being used up, which is a one percentage point improvement. Sixty-seven per cent of the allocated development expenditure was spent, a 15 per cent increase.

The absorption of funds allocated to development expenditure had increased from 54 per cent in the financial year 2015/16.


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