Mixed bag for court set up to fast-track small claims

BDSmallcourt
BDSmallcourt

The Small Claims Court (SCC) is a specialised court that was created by statute with specific duties and powers designed to hear disputes involving small amounts of money (below Sh1 million).

The SCC was introduced as part of plans to reduce case backlog, which has bogged down the Judiciary over the years.

The simplicity of the court requires the adjudicators (magistrates) to adopt simple procedures in the hearings and measures that ensure timely disposal of cases using the least expensive method, equality and fairness of the process.

The court does not demand strict observance of technical procedures and the process is easier to follow.

The proceedings and records can be recorded in English, Kiswahili and any other appropriate language, including indigenous languages, Kenya Sign Language, Braille and any other communication format accessible to persons with disabilities.

The cases should be concluded within 60 days from the date of filing.

The powers of the court

The SCC has jurisdiction to determine any civil claim relating to contracts for the sale and supply of goods or services, contracts relating to money held or received, loss or damage caused to any property or for delivery or recovery of movable property, compensation for personal injuries and settlement of mutual debt.

How many courts have been established so far?

The first court was established at Milimani Law Courts in April 2021 and Chief Justice Martha Koome early last year gazetted 11 other courts in Mombasa, Kisumu, Nyeri, Eldoret, Thika, Naivasha, Machakos, Nakuru and Kakamega.

There are 25 adjudicators stationed in the various courts, who conduct the hearings on a day-to-day basis. It is only the Milimani SCC that has staff attached to it.

In the other stations, members of staff have been seconded from the chief magistrate court registries on an interim basis, pending the posting of specific staff to the SCC.

How many cases have been disposed of by SCC?

The acting Registrar of the SCC Stella Kanyiri says due to the level of commerce within Nairobi and the increased awareness of the existence and operations of the court, the pilot court at Milimani has seen its caseload rise with an average daily filing of between 65- 130 new matters, making it one of the busiest courts in terms of new filings.

A total of 16,372 cases had been filed by September and 11,660 cases valued over Sh2 billion have been heard and determined from April 2021 to September 2022.

Does one need to be represented by an advocate at the SCC?

A party may appear in person or may be represented by an advocate or next of kin or a close relative appointed in writing and approved by the adjudicator.

If a party is represented by a person who is not a legal practitioner, they must seek the permission of the court, after the adjudicator is satisfied that the person has sufficient knowledge of the case and sufficient authority to bind the party being represented.

Is there room for appeal?

Matters emanating from the Small Claims Court can only be appealed once, at the High Court.

Judges of the High Court, especially at the Commercial Division are, however, lamenting over the high number of appeals coming from the SCC on daily basis.

Any constraints so far?

Ms Kanyiri says there was no budgetary provision for SCC when the court was established and the court was forced to largely rely on the goodwill from other units within the Judiciary for operational support.

She added that the operationalisation of the SCCs is hampered by an acute shortage of staff to serve in the registries and administration.

In the operating stations other than in Milimani SCC, staff are shared with the other courts thus slowing service delivery.

“Given the workload and strict timelines, service delivery would be enhanced if there were staff specifically designated to SCCs,” she said.

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