In April, PLEAD set up the first-ever Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) centre in Lamu East.
The centre, expected to be operational starting July, will shield litigants from the adversarial nature of the judicial system, which leaves severely damaged relationships. It will further reduce case backlogs by handling mediatable disputes.
The establishment followed the resumption of mobile court sittings in Lamu East in January this year. Judiciary had stopped 53 mobile courts across the country following massive budget cuts in June 2019.
Lamu East only relies on a mobile court. A physical court, located on the Westside of the county, is separated by a vast water body.
Litigious locals from the East had to undertake an expensive and time-consuming journey when the Judiciary suspended the sittings. It cost at least Sh3,000 to sail from Lamu East to the Westside using a public boat. A hired vessel is Sh15,000. And then there are filing fees.
All these expenses are now cut after Programme for Legal Empowerment and Aid Delivery (PLEAD) started supporting mobile court sittings in January. The cost of seeking justice will reduce even more when the ADR centre starts operating in July—no court fees will be needed.
So far, PLEAD, through MUHURI, has facilitated seven mobile court sittings in Faza, Lamu East. The Magistrate and Kadhi courts had four and three sessions, respectively, equalling 42 cases, with the former taking 33 matters, the latter, nine. Eight suits got concluded.
The disputes included assault, drug trafficking, child custody and maintenance, contravention of Covid -19 health protocols, traffic—and divorce and succession, which a Kadhi court handled.
These outcomes are part of PLEAD’s goal: enhancing access to justice and promoting human rights for the poor and marginalized in Lamu. The European Union (EU), through UNDP-Amkeni, funds PLEAD.
MUHURI succeeded in setting up the ADR centre and running the mobile court after its quarterly and ad-hoc consultations with Lamu Court Users’ Committee (CUC) meetings, which PLEAD financed.
The next step is to push for the establishment of a High Court in Lamu. It means that Parliament must reasonably fund the Judiciary, giving it at least 2.5 per cent of the national budget. Treasury must deposit this budget to the Judiciary Fund, guaranteeing full autonomy and independence.
Mohammed Gumo is a Project Officer at MUHURI. He leads the PLEAD project.
Editing by Ernest Cornel.