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Agony as half of lawsuits in Kenya drag on past three years

case backlog
An estimated 45 per cent of the 327,928 backlog cases as at June 2018 had been before the courts for more than three years, with the Magistrate Court and High Court registering the highest overall backlog. GRAPHIC | CHRISPUS BARGORETT 
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Close to half of the unresolved cases in Kenyan courts have dragged on for more than three years, a new report shows, piling pressure on ongoing reforms at the Judiciary to improve service delivery.

An estimated 45 per cent of the 327,928 backlog cases as at June 2018 had been before the courts for more than three years, with the Magistrate Court and High Court registering the highest overall backlog.

In Kenya, the maximum desirable timeline that a case ought to have been finalised from the date of filing is one year. Any case that exceeds one year before a court is considered a backlog.

“Out of these cases, 55 per cent were aged between one and three years, 23 percent between three and five years and 22 per cent were over five years,” the Judiciary said.

Statistics show that as of June last year the majority of the backlog cases were in the Magistrate Court at 260,653 cases, followed by High Court at 76,208 cases. The Supreme Court had only four case backlogs as at the end of June last year — the least across all the levels.

Delayed hearing and determination of cases not only delay justice to the aggrieved parties but also means higher spending on legal costs.

Lawyers usually charge fees based on among other things, the number of appearances made in the court on behalf of their clients.

Out of the 407,631 pending cases in magistrates’ court as of June 30, 2018, a total of 260,653 cases were a backlog.

“A total of 152,935 cases were aged between one and three years, 54,244 cases between three and five years while 53,474 cases were over five years in age,” the Judiciary said.

Accumulation of cases

A similar massive accumulation of cases, which are more than a year-old in court was witnessed in the High Court.

Out of the 76,208 backlog cases in the High Court as at the end of June last year, 33,380 cases were aged between one to three years, 20,605 cases were aged between three and five years while 22,223 cases were above five years in age.

Mombasa High Court had the highest number of backlog, which stood at 9,557 cases followed by Nakuru High Court at 7,446 cases.

The High Court, however, managed to slash case backlogs aged five years or more by 62 per cent between January 2017 and June 30 last year.

The Judiciary has been running an ambitious project to clear a backlog of cases from court amid public outcry for faster administration of justice.

A key target of the programme dubbed Sustaining Judiciary Transformation (SJT) is to finalise cases that have been in court for more than five years.

At the onset of SJT in January 2017, there were 170,186 cases in the Judiciary, which were over five years old. This dropped to 82,495 as of June 30 last year.

“The overall percentage reduction in case backlog older than five years between January 1, 2017, and June 30, 2018, was 52 per cent.

“The bulk of the reduction was in the High Court at 62 per cent followed by the magistrate court at 50 per cent,” the Judiciary said.

Meanwhile, the overall pending cases before the Judiciary stood at 553,187 as at the end of last June, which comprised 219,686 criminal cases and 333,501 civil cases.

This represented a four per cent from the 533,350 cases at the end of the 2016/17 fiscal year.

“Civil cases remained the bulk of the pending cases for the past three reporting periods,” said the Judiciary.

The majority of the pending cases were in the Magistrate Court at 407,631 cases followed by the High Court at 97,327 cases. The least number of pending cases were in the Supreme Court at 95 cases.

Rise in pending cases

There was an 11 per cent rise in pending cases in the Magistrate Court between 2016/17 and 2017/18. The majority of these pending criminal cases in the Magistrate Court were general criminal matters at 65 per cent followed by traffic cases at 24 per cent.

Inquests were the least pending criminal cases at one per cent. General civil matters were the highest pending civil cases, accounting for 75 per cent of total pending civil matters.

At the end of 2017/18, there were 97,327 pending cases in the High Court.
These comprised 20,329 criminal cases and 76,998 civil cases. The overall pending cases in the High Court show a declining trend.

“However, pending criminal cases rose 17.93 per cent from 17,238 cases recorded at the end of 2013/14 cases to 20,329 cases at the end of the current reporting period. The trend line for civil cases mimics that for the overall pending cases,” said the Judiciary report.

Mombasa High Court had the highest number of pending cases at 11,500 followed by Nakuru High Court at 8,948 cases.

Lodwar High court had the least pending cases which stood at 30 cases followed by Kapenguria High Court at 40 cases.

The delays saw more Kenyans flock the Office of the Judiciary Ombudsman to register their complaints. The office received 3,515 queries.

Complaints on poor service went up by 129 per cent to while those on slow service rose by 40 per cent. Most popular complaints were on slow service, poor service, missing file and graft in that order.

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