Members of the Samburu community residing in disputed land previously owned by retired President Daniel Moi have been slapped with a staggering Sh11.8 million legal fee by a Nairobi-based elite law firm.
Kaplan & Stratton Advocates is demanding the sum following conclusion of a nine-year protracted court battle that pitted 248 members of the community against the former President for transferring 17,105 acres of their ancestral land to be converted into a national park.
They accused Mr Moi of disposing Eland Downs in Laikipia North, also known as Kabarak Farm, to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) at a cost of Sh400 million in 2011 and later to the Africa Wildlife Foundation (AWF) without considering their fate.
The Lands and Environment court in Nyeri dismissed the case between the herders, Mr Moi and the Africa Wildlife Foundation (AWF) in July with costs to the community.
According to documents served to the community’s lawyer Suyanka Lempaa last Friday, Kaplan & Stratton - through lawyer James Muthui - made 290 appearances in court on behalf of AWF.
May make similar demands
Mr Lempaa has protested the court's move on legal fee charges saying AWF should be considerate and waive it.
He also fears that other parties in the case will make similar demands, thus piling pressure on the community which he says will struggle to pay the amount.
The second and third defendants in the case were the retired President and the KWS respectively, while Kituo Cha Sheria and Katiba Institute's Yash Pal Ghai were enjoined as interested parties in the suit.
Kaplan & Stratton's lawyers made the first appearance in court on October 19, 2009 up to February 17, 2017 when the case was closed and scheduled for judgement.
The law firm had all through defended Washington-based AWF, arguing that the land was acquired legally for conservation of wild animals.
The case came to the limelight after the Lands and Environment Court ordered the community to hire choppers to transport judicial officers and lawyers involved in the case for a site visit.
Justice Lucy Waithaka had on March 10, 2016 directed the community to hire helicopters and meet all other logistical needs to facilitate the court’s visit after hearing that the suit land could only be accessed via air travel.
Samburu herders wanted the land reverted back to them on doctrine of adverse possession whereby someone who has lived continuously on a piece of land for more than 12 years can gain ownership.
They also based it on the land rights under the Anglo-Maasai Agreement where their forefathers were forced by the British colony to sign agreements allowing white settlers to occupy their land.
However, Justice Waithaka dismissed the adverse possession claim after finding that Mr Moi had owned the parcel of land for 11 years (between 1997 and 2008) after purchasing it from Ol Pejeta Conservancy.
The herders have challenged the court's July decision that sided with the defendants and have a hearing for their appeal set for February 20 next year.
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