Economy

Judge criticises Judiciary for online court hitches

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The Supreme Court building. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Summary

  • The High Court faulted the Judiciary for closing down courts last year before ensuring that Kenyans had facilities to enable them access online hearings.
  • Justice James Makau has criticised former Chief Justice David Maraga and the National Council on Administration of Justice for failing to ensure that ordinary Kenyans have uninterrupted access to judicial services.

The High Court faulted the Judiciary for closing down courts last year before ensuring that Kenyans had facilities to enable them access online hearings.

Justice James Makau has criticised former Chief Justice David Maraga and the National Council on Administration of Justice for failing to ensure that ordinary Kenyans have uninterrupted access to judicial services.

While determining a case Kituo cha Sheria filed, the judge said the decision to scale down the open court activities in April last year and embrace technology without measures to safeguard undisturbed judicial services, violated the public’s legitimate expectation.

“In view of the conclusion I have come to herein above, I have no doubt in finding and holding that a legitimate expectation was created, that the Judiciary of Kenya would provide certain ICT support and facilities within a reasonable amount of time to improve access of common wananchi to judicial services,” said the judge.

The judge directed the CJ Martha Koome to within 90 days implement initiatives and programmes that will ensure access to courts and services by the public and advocates.

Justice Makau noted that in July last year Mr Maraga created an expectation that programmes and ICT support centres were to be established to ensure that Kenyan seeking justice, get access to online hearing during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the promise contained in a speech dated July 1, 2020, the retired CJ stated that “We have, therefore, initiated various programmes aimed at ensuring that ordinary wananchi seeking court services, especially those who may not have access to the necessary infrastructure or are unrepresented and unfamiliar with court procedures are not disenfranchised in any way”.





The promised measures include the establishment of information technology support centres within court stations where court users could be assisted to file their matters.

However, the Judiciary delayed implementing Justice Maraga’s promise, prompting the NGO to write letters to his office reminding him of the pledge. The letters were not responded, leading to the filing of the petition in court.





The Judge noted that the rights group had demonstrated that Kenyans have not benefited with the said ICT support centres and the CJ and the NCAJ did not answer to that argument.

“The former Chief Justice was in a position to speak on behalf of the Judiciary and as such the public is in a position to hold the Judiciary to the representations made by the former CJ,” the Judge said.

Through lawyers Dr John Khaminwa and John Mwariri, the rights group stated that majority of Kenyans have been suffering from technological barriers in search for justice.

They argued that the electronic filling of documents, e-service of documents and use of video links to conduct court proceedings was a frustration to the poor population of Kenya.

This, the group said, is because the Judiciary has denied them the right to access justice since they cannot afford to buy digital devices and internet services required to be heard by a magistrate or a judge remotely.

“Even where internet network is available, affordability of digital devices (smartphones, tablets and computers or laptops) continues to lock out the poor. Most court users lack familiarity of complex court procedures including the digitised and electronic judicial system,” the group stated.