They are supposed to be Kenya’s symbols of justice and equality but most courts across the country are in shambles. Some magistrates have no courtrooms, while some courtrooms also serve as holding cells for suspects.
In a number of law courts, magistrates share pit latrines with the public. Some confess they live under the shadow of uncertainty as they mingle with potentially dangerous suspects, while others sit in courtrooms that could collapse any time.
An investigation by The Standard on Saturday has exposed a deplorable state of facilities in the Judiciary.
Our inquiries in seven law courts spread in Central, Eastern and the Rift Valley exposed the distressing woes magistrates have to go through as they dispense justice.
Amid the pathetic conditions, claims of corruption and shortage of staff, there are over 177,000 pending cases, according to Judiciary figures. The rehabilitation of courthouses was part of the larger Judiciary Transformation Framework launched by Chief Justice Willy Mutunga in 2012, which aimed at enhancing the image of the institution.
In places like Marimanti in Tharaka Nithi County, the court registry also acts as a kitchen where tea is made for staff.
This exposes crucial files to a fire hazard and damage. At least two magistrates spoke of fear for their lives because they operate in condemned buildings that could tumble any time. Some courts lack holding cells for suspects, who have to stay locked up in police vehicles outside the courtroom as other cases are heard.
“We are still using shared pit latrines as you can see, members of the public included. The conditions are pathetic,” says Willy Cheruiyot, acting Senior Resident Magistrate (SRM) Tawa law courts.
Work in shifts
The courts lack clerks and prosecutors, which has led to delay in conclusion of cases. In some stations like Othaya, magistrates have been forced to work in shifts because only one court clerk is available.
The justice system badly needs reforms, even as it was revealed that a project to spruce up 11 stations and build new structures has collapsed.
Worth more than Sh600 million, the project was to set up prefabricated buildings. Contractors were to build backup offices and separate cell blocks for women, children and men. They were to construct chambers for magistrates, toilets and bathrooms and provide backup generators.
Launched last year, construction in the affected stations stalled in varied phases after the Judiciary allegedly stopped paying contractors. The judiciary had in 2012 identified Bomet, Othaya, Marimanti, Tawa and Wang’uru stations as priority areas where the prefabs were to be built. Other stations where construction commenced are Makueni and Runyenjes.
However, due to lack of cash, tenders were not awarded for Garsen, Iten, Tamu and Eldama Ravine. The plan was to have 30 more constructed by 2017. With the date of the project’s revival unestablished, judiciary staff must contend with appalling working conditions.
Due to limited space, magistrates are forced to use their offices as open court rooms. All affected magistrates spoke freely about their concerns adding that other judicial staff as well as citizens still use pit latrines in a Government institution that is also the third Arm of Government.