Kenya can learn a lot from Rwanda on digitizing Justice

The plan by the Judiciary to set up court registries at selected Huduma Centre has continued to receive opposition from lawyers across the country. The lawyers, who have opposed the plan have argued that the move will open doors for quacks to interfere with the independence of the Judiciary. They further argue it will increase unethical practices, questioning why the Judiciary was quick to implement the plan without sufficient consultation at a time when concerns were rife that the Judiciary was under the executive’s chokehold.

On the other hand, the Judiciary says it is seeking to leverage the success of the Huduma Centers and particularly the technology deployed to enhance access to justice by Kenyans.

Kituo cha sheria conducted a comparative study with Rwanda on how technology had impacted the Justice sector. These perhaps could illuminate on the foregoing

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic emphasized the importance and the urgency of transforming justice systems and delivering public services online not only in Rwanda but all over the world. Having begun the journey of digital transformation, the justice sector in Rwanda no longer relies on manual, paper-based case processes. The Judiciary’s use of an online case management solution kept courts, as well as other agencies, functioning during the COVID-19 pandemic and this supported the goal of making the justice system more accessible and efficient to all.

Integrated Electronic Case Management System (IECMS) in Rwanda

Antony Njenga, a paraegal from Kibera Community Justice Centre navigating through the efilling platform during a paralegals training on how efilling system works.

Rwanda has an Integrated Electronic Case Management System (IECMS) which serves as the single point of entry for all Justice Sector institutions involved in managing cases. The system records all judicial case information from the time a plaintiff files a case be it a civil or a criminal suit. This goes in the entire judicial process the time of arrest through sentence execution, efficiently sharing that information among all relevant sector institutions.

The Ministry of Justice Rwanda partnered with Cyber Café Agents to support filing of cases. Through the cyber cafes, members of the public are able to file cases by the assistance of government trained cybercafé agents. Kenya has an opportunity to tweak this, a similar arrangement that of Huduma Centre where government e-services can be obtained.  It is important to note that there is no system that is fallible. Any invention will come with its equal share of challenges and resistance.

 

Back home, as part of Kenya’s Judiciary digital strategy, an e-filing system was rolled out to improve the courts’ efficiency, reduce case backlog and yield faster results for users Launched in 2020, the system aimed to simplify procedures for both the judiciary and court users by enabling citizens to file, pay court fees and access their cases remotely through online processes. However, the system unfortunately did not integrate other institutions in the justice sector.

Kituo Cha Sheria together with the Grassroots Justice Network and the African Centre of Excellence for Access to Justice being taken through the Judiciary efilling system by an officer from the Judiciary during the Kenya ICT site visit.

It can be argued that Kenya and Rwanda have varying socio-political contexts however this offers an invaluable lesson. Any responsible government ought to surmount the obstacles in order to provide the much needed services to its citizenry. Kenya one of the most progressive constitution in the world yet the same document recognizes that the three arms of government are inter-dependent in as much as they are independent.

It behooves upon three arms of government together with The law society of Kenya to be pragmatic to chart the way forward. This should be fast and foremost in the interest of Wanjiku.

The fears of the lawyers on their livelihood whether founded or not should be addressed adequately. It is also important for them to be outward looking and see the big picture. The digital age will deconstruct some of the long held norms and traditions   in various professions.  Improved access to justice for all is a win win for all.

By James Adala a researcher working as a Programs Officer at Kituo cha Sheria.

Kituo’s access to justice project in prison communities in Kenya

Background

Kituo’s Prison paralegal approach was mooted in response to the situation where the state only offers legal representation to people charged with capital offenses, leaving out others who are charged with other offenses. This together with the inability of most people in custody to understand the complexities of the legal system resulted in miscarriages of justice as well as unnecessary congestion in the prisons.

The innovation was triggered by many cases that were being brought to Kituo Cha Sheria about people who were in custody mainly because they lacked knowledge on the legal justice system and thus ended up staying in prison for longer than necessary or even for crimes they never committed. They did not have someone to advise them about their rights and the process in general. Hiring of lawyers was expensive and Kituo Cha Sheria did not have enough personnel hence the need to innovate the prison paralegal project.

Unlike most prison legal aid programmes that seek to sponsor lawyers or attach professional paralegals to the prisons; Kituo’s prison paralegal approach targets the beneficiaries (inmates) themselves to be the drivers and the actors of the initiative. Thus the initiative achieves sustainability with minimal external support.

The prison justice centres project was pioneered at Shimo La Tewa Prison in the year 2009.The project has since then been replicated in 14 Prisons across the country namely; the Shimo La Tewa Women’s Prison, Langata Women’s Prison, Kamiti Maximum Prison, Kisumu’s Kodiaga Main Prison, Meru GK Prison, Kakamega Main Prison, Kisii prison, Edoret prison, Naivasha Prison, Manyani prison, Kitale Prison and Nyeri Maximum Prison.

Paralegals trainings

Inmates and officers from Langata Women's Prison having a group discussion session during the training

In each of these prison justice centres, inmates and prison warders receive continuous training and practical exposure to criminal law and procedure, court systems, prosecution and the role of prosecutors, self-representation in criminal matters and paralegalism. As a result, the trained inmates and warders have offered free legal aid services to other inmates. Thus far, more than 10,000 inmates have been released resulting in decongestion of correctional facilities nationwide. Other benefits accruing from the prison justice centres extend beyond individual cases to include general communal and societal benefits such as speedy processing of cases; fair and impartial trials; and the reduction of prison populations while ensuring that justice is fair and accessible.

Due to re-sentencing, a great number of our prison paralegals have been released. Additionally, the law is dynamic and keeps on changing from time to time. Kituo therefore conducts refresher training to new members to be able to offer legal services and support to the inmates.

The work of prison paralegals

The prison paralegals provide legal awareness sessions to inmates. They offer free lessons on crafting cross-examinations questions, drafting petitions, requests for re-sentencing and appeals among other services.

Through this legal empowerment approach, Kituo has so far trained 450 paralegals across the prisons who have since enabled more than 20,000 inmates to have access to legal services resulting in more than 4,346 inmates securing freedom in the last one year.

At the same time, more than 43,789 inmates have been served through virtual court sessions being facilitated through the installation of internet and computers, while over 451 inmates have had their matters settled out of courts through the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanism.

SUPPORT THIS CAUSE

Access to justice through legal education

Kutuo’s access to justice project in prison communities in Kenya by providing free, legal education to prisoners and prison staff. We equip those from the margins of society to make, shape, and implement the law, empowering them to support and defend one another.

Situation

Across Kenya, thousands of inmates cannot afford legal representation and are unable to defend themselves in court. They languish in prisons operating at over 200% capacity, and wait 3–8 years for their cases to reach court. Many are even wrongfully accused or detained. This lack of affordable legal representation creates justice systems that deny a fair hearing and imprison people unnecessarily for years due to unresolved cases.

Inmates and Officers from Kisii Maximum Prison in Kisumu, undergoing training on various aspects of the law

Solution

We are empowering prisoners and prison staff in Kenya to become paralegals who can provide legal services to defend themselves and those who have no other means to obtain a fair hearing. Kituo’s Prison Paralegal Training equips participants with the basic legal knowledge to confidently navigate the justice system.

Inmates and Officers from Kodiaga Maximum Prison in Kisumu, undergoing training on various aspects of the law

A SESSION ON THE ROLE OF COMMUNITY-BASED PARALEGALS IN ENHANCING ACCESS TO JUSTICE IN AFRICA

The Pathfinders, African Centre of Excellence for Access to Justice and the Open Government Partnership having a session on the role of community-based paralegals in enhancing access to justice in Africa.[/caption]

The Pathfinders in collaboration with the African Centre of Excellence for Access to Justice and the Open Government Partnership on 3rd November 2022 hosted a session on the role of community-based paralegals in enhancing access to justice in Africa.
The session focused on the role of community-based paralegals, their impact and the challenges that they experience. The African Centre shared the initiatives it had undertaken in advocating for matters relating to the legal recognition of paralegals and the urgent need to increase their financing. The advocacy initiatives have been regional through the NGO Forum and African Commission’s ordinary sessions and global through the High Level Political Forum and SDG Summit. The Centre has also conducted research to document the work of community based paralegals.
The conversation also tackled the question of financing for community based paralegals. Focus was placed on the Legal Empowerment Fund which has thus far noted the demand for legal empowerment funding.
The Fund also seeks to demystify grant making so as to make it more accessible for grassroots justice defenders. The session involved experience sharing from Government representative from Sierra Leone who detailed the support the state has made towards the Legal Aid Board.
The government in Sierra Leone was also working closely with civil society organizations who worked with community based paralegals. The panel session elicited responses from experts in the field with many agreeing that indeed more recognition and financing ought to be extended to community based paralegals in Africa.

A selection of members from the Pathfinders, African Centre of Excellence for Access to Justice and the Open Government Partnership pose for a photo.

The panelists were: Atieno Odhiambo (Director, Legal Empowerment Fund), Shahid Korjie (National Coordinator, A-G’s office Sierra Leone) and Annette Mbogoh (African Centre of Excellence and Director, Kituo cha Sheria). The session was moderated by Eleanor Thompson, Namati Sierra Leone.

KITUO CELEBRATES ITS GOLDEN JUBILEE ANNIVERSARY

Kituo Cha Sheria (Legal Advice Centre) on Friday, October 27, 2023 marked its golden jubilee anniversary, in a colourful event that brought together both founder members, present members, alumni, stakeholders and development partners to reflect on Kituo’s milestone for the last 50 years.

Kituo Golden Jubilee event was marred with storytelling and inspirational speeches with individual speakers sharing the lessons, successes and challenges that the Legal Advice Centre has experienced while promoting legal empowerment and access to justice to the indigent communities.

Kituo Cha Sheria Executive Director Dr. Annette Mbogoh leads in cutting a cake as they celebrate the centre’s 50th Anniversary at the Head Office at Ole Dume Road, Nairobi on October 27, 2023

The Honorable Chief Justice Martha K. Koome, in remarks delivered by Justice Wendy Micheni lauded Kituo Cha Sheria for being a movement in protecting Human Rights laws that have brought tremendous changes in the legal sector. “The impact of KITUO’s work for the last 5decades shows that it’s been more than just an institution. It has been a movement that has challenged conventions, bridged gaps and provided a voice for the voiceless.” Said Hon. Wendy.

The Honorable Chief Justice Martha K. Koome acknowledged that Kituo’s landmark cases have shaped the jurisprudence of law in Kenya, such as those relating to the rights to housing, refugee rights, and prisoners’ rights, among others.  “The tireless dedication of KITUO over the years has not just been representing those who could not afford legal representation, it has been about changing narratives, breaking the chains of systematic oppression and continually reminding us of the sanity of human rights” read part of CJ’s speech.

Chief Magistrate Hon. Wendy Micheni delivering the congratulations sent by CJ Martha Koome.

Speaking of Kituo’s partneshipng with the Judiciary, Hon. Wendy stated that Kituo has been a key partner and ally of the judiciary in advancing access to justice for all Kenyans. She added that Kituo has supported the judiciary in championing for the adoption of the Alternative Justice System, collaborated with the judiciary in conducting public awareness campaigns, training judicial officers and staff, developing manuals, guidelines on various aspects of the law.

The office of the Attorney General celebrated Kituo for the legal empowerment work it is doing with both the community, refugees and the prisons and opening up justice centres where people are armed with legal knowledge to help them in their daily lives.

The Law Society of Kenya President Eric Theuri celebrated Kituo for being a valued member in the justice sector that stands for a noble cause and urged the advocates to volunteer their services especially by providing probono services to the poor and marginalized. “In my younger life, I had the privilege of offering pro bono services under Kituo Cha Sheria. I feel like a member of the family. I’m proud of the work Kituo has done over the years and the footprints it has left in the quest to ensure access to justice for the vulnerable in the society. There is no any greater reward for any advocate than to be able to be of service to humanity where payment is gratitude and eternal gratitude” said Eric Theuri.

LSK President Eric Theuri giving his remarks during the Golden Jubilee celebration at Ole Dume Road on October 27, 2023

Theuri’s sentiments were echoed by senior council John Khaminwa who urged stakeholders to help advance Kituo’s goal. “We leave in a world where access to justice is still hampered by poverty, ignorance, corruption, discrimination, violence impunity and other social ills. We therefore need stakeholders to support Kituo Cha Sheria to continue providing legal aid and education to those who cannot afford it” Said senior council John Khaminwa

Senior council John Khaminwa giving his remarks during Kituo Cha Sheria’s 50th Anniversary at Ole Dume Road, Nairobi.Khaminwa added, “We leave in a time when democracy is still threatened by authoritarianism, populism, and other forces that undermine the rule of law. We need Kituo to continue its courageous work of challenging injustice and impunities through public interest litigation” senior council John Khaminwa said.

Dr. Annette Mbogoh giving her remarks during Kituo Cha Sheria’s 50th Anniversary

Kituo’s Executive Director, Dr. Annette Mbogoh expressed confidence and hope that Kituo will stand firm for the next 50 years and outlined the strategies Kituo intends to adopt in the next five to ten years.

These include championing for Climate Justice, land, labour and housing, organizational capacity building which she said will focus on transforming the center and strengthening its communication.

Kituo’s BOD chairperson Mr. Justus Munyithya added that Kituo also plans to focus on the use of innovation and technology to promote justice.

The African Centre of Excellence for Access to Justice through their chairperson Clifford W. Msiska acknowledged Kituo was one of the founder members of the network and the contributions Kituo has made in promoting access to justice.

Two of our founder members present Lady Justice Mary Ang’awa and Rtd. Judge J. Vitalis O. Juma shared the vision they had and the rich history of the legal advice centre and their experience during the early stages of Kituo’s formation, touching on the challenges and how they overcame them. Tributes of the late founder members were read and a moment of silence observed in their honor.

Lady Justice Mary Ang’awa giving her key note address.

We at Kituo Cha Sheria are delighted and note with a lot of appreciation that Kituo Golden Jubilee could not have been possible without the support of all our stakeholders including our development partners, other civil society organizations and state actors.

We also recognize all our beneficiaries for trusting us and giving us the opportunity to serve and work with them in ensuring equality, transparency, accountability, promotion of human rights and access to justice in Kenya and beyond.

KITUO SHINES AT THE NAIROBI LEGAL AWARD 2023

Kituo cha Sheria was honoured to be the 2nd runner-up of the 6th edition of the Nairobi Legal Awards, Civil Society (justice and legal affairs) Organization of the year 2023, held at Safari Park Hotel on 3rd November 2023.

In the other category, Kituo’s Executive Director  Dr. Annette Mbogoh was also honoured to be the 1st  runners up, Civil Society Lawyer of the year.

The Nairobi Legal Awards (NLA) assessment is based on the aspects of best practice in legal practice and management. The award is conferred upon the civil society Organization that demonstrates outstanding levels of excellence in legal service delivery.

Kituo’s executive director, Dr. Annette Mbogoh address the media shortly after receiving her award.

KITUO was recognized for having greatly impacted the lives of indigent and marginalized communities through our human rights programmes and interventions for 50 Years since its establishment. Some of these include Kituo’s involvement in strategic litigation cases that have contributed towards jurisprudential development of human rights including the prisoners’ right to vote in elections, the protection of refugees rights, safeguarding of housing rights of dwellers of informal settlements, the enactment of law on enforced disappearance, police brutality, 1998 US Embassy bombing, Marsabit toxic waste and access to digitized justice for self-representing indigent litigants.

Kituo’s team pause for a photo after the award ceremony

KITUO was also considered for demonstrating innovation in our programs, allowing the organization to remain relevant within the context of a dynamic environment. KITUO has been at the forefront in embracing the use of ICT in legal empowerment programmes. KITUO has advocated for law reform nationally, regionally, and globally. The enactment of laws and policies such as the Constitution of Kenya 2010, the Legal Aid Act 2016, the Land Act 2012, the National Peace Policy among others were spearheaded by KITUO alongside other collaborative partners. In addition, KITUO has jointly with other organizations submitted policy statements on human rights to the African Commission for Human and People’s Rights, Universal Periodic Review and the Kenyan Parliament.

Due to our extensive experience in legal empowerment and human rights work, KITUO has been recognized as a leading actor and trailblazer regionally and globally. In Africa, KITUO serves as a founding member of the African Centre of Excellence for Access to Justice, which is the only Pan-African organization promoting justice in the continent. Globally, KITUO sits in the Network Advisory Committee of the Global Legal Empowerment Network representing the East Africa region. KITUO coordinates learning, community building, and advocacy of Legal Empowerment Network members in East and Southern Africa. In addition, KITUO is the co-chair of the Access to Justice Cluster under the global Open Government Partnerships platform. Jointly with other justice organizations, KITUO has been co-implementing the access to justice commitment in Kenya’s fourth National Action Plan.

KITUO is honoured to have our efforts in promoting access to justice for the poor and marginalized recognized by the Law Society of Kenya.

 

HONGERA KITUO!

 

STRENGTHENING THE GLOBAL MOVEMENT FOR GRASSROOTS JUSTICE: A PUBLIC EVENT

On March 22, 2023, community-based paralegals and representatives from civil society and development organizations convened at the University of Nairobi Faculty of Law to hear directly from community paralegals, His Excellency the Canadian High Commissioner Mr. Christopher Thornley, the Honorable Chief Justice of Kenya Martha Koome (through a representative), the UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers Prof. Margaret Sattherthwaite, Namati, and Canada’s International Development Research Centre about the importance of strengthening grassroots justice in Kenya and abroad.

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THE 2ND ANNUAL NATIONAL CONFERENCE ON ALTERNATIVE JUSTICE SYSTEMS

The National Steering Committee on the Implementation of the Alternative Justice Systems Policy (NaSCI-AJS) on 26th June 2023 convened the 2nd Annual National Conference on Alternative Justice Systems in Kenya at Tangaza University College. The conference brings together justice actors, practitioners, judicial officers, academics, policy makers, civil society actors, development partners, community leaders and all stakeholders in the Access to Justice Ecosystem.

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KITUO DONATES EQUIPMENT TO PRISONS TO FACILITATE VIRTUAL COURT SESSIONS AND TRAININGS

Kituo cha Sheria through the support of the Embassy of the Netherlands in Kenya on 10th May 2023 donated Television screens, wide angle cameras, laptops and Bluetooth speakers to all its prison justice centres across the country to facilitate virtual training and virtual court sessions for the inmates. Kituo intends to conduct monthly virtual training on legal topics that paralegal convicts need to grasp better and provide technical support in legal matters that require the attention of an advocate. 

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Corporate

Contact Info: Head Office - Nairobi

Location: Ole Odume Rd, Off Argwings Kodhek Rd.
Postal Add.: P.O. Box 7483-00300 Nairobi, Kenya.
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Email: info(at)kituochasheria.or.ke
Website: www.kituochasheria.or.ke

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