Judges burn midnight oil in bid to clear cases backlog

Friday, May 8th, 2020 00:00 | By
Accused persons at Milimani open court in the new arrangement designed to enhance safe distancing. Judges have resorted to delivering justice via video-conferences. Photo/PD/CHARLES MATHAI

Alphonse Mung’ahu

High Court judges in Nairobi yesterday spent part of their time writing and delivering pending rulings and judgments in order to meet the May 30 deadline.

Judges were busy at their respective chambers at Milimani to comply with  Chief Justice David Maraga’s direction that all pending verdicts be delivered by then.

Other judges were doing the same from their homes through digital technology system.

On April 24, Maraga issued an internal memo reprimanding a section of judges and magistrates who are not working following the partial shutdown of courts to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

In an internal memo to judges, the CJ said a few of the judicial officers were frustrating and sabotaging the Judiciary’s efforts to conduct proceedings remotely and as a result the institution ‘is being barraged with all manner of complaints and insults.

Though courts have moved away from hearing cases once a week, Maraga said he was shocked to learn that some judges and magistrates are claiming they are hearing matters only on Thursdays.  

Maraga directed that all pending judgments and rulings must be written and delivered by May 30.

Technology challenge

“Those scheduled to be delivered later than that date should, with notice to the parties, be brought forward for us to demonstrate that we are indeed working,” said the CJ.

 He also directed that with effect from yesterday judges and magistrates should send him monthly returns of the work done.

They are also required to copy the reports to the directorate of performance management until further notice.

Since some courts are holding virtual proceedings to prevent staff, lawyers and litigants from contracting the coronavirus disease, Maraga told the judicial officers with challenges of using technology to seek assistance from the Judiciary’s ICT department.

“Colleagues, let me make it quite clear that we are all on duty. I will not allow any of us to cause problems to the entire institution.

If you have any challenge with technology seek assistance from our ICT team.

Those of you who have no Wi-Fi at home should work from their chambers and if they have none there, they should seek assistance from the Chief Registrar,” said the CJ.

The Judiciary staff including judges and magistrates is reluctant to return to work, saying the reopening of courts would expose them to the deadly coronavirus.

  Maraga took office in October 2016. He promised to clear the case backlog saying that, by the end of his tenure in December 2020, there will be no case in court older than three years.

But as at the end of the last financial year, the backlog stood at 341,056 cases according to a government report, and the pile-up of cases is likely to continue after the courts shut down operations for one month following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A case is classified as backlogged if it remains unresolved one year upon its filing in court.

The suspension of the courts will not only affect the clearance of cases but also revenue streams such as fines, fees, forfeitures and other charges.

Revenue increase

Fines refer to the money ordered by the court for an offender to pay as a condition for his or her release while forfeitures are the cash bails cancelled when an accused person fails to observe court appointments.

Fees refers to money paid for court services mainly for civil matters while charges include commissioning fees, revenue from sale of exhibits and other miscellaneous fees.

In the three financial years that Justice Maraga has been in office, the judiciary’s total revenue has increased from Sh1.97 billion in Financial Year (FY) 2016/2017 to Sh2.075 billion (FY2017/2018). It further increased to Sh2.69 billion in FY2018/2019.

When the one-month suspension ends, judges will start Easter recess. This means that normal operations could resume in May. 

“Some cases have a ripple effect on the economy. With their conclusion delayed, the economy will feel the heat” says a lawyer.

Shortly after taking office, as at December of that year there were a total of 505,315 cases pending in the court system. Of these, 360,284 were pending for five years or longer.

While outlining his ‘six strategic big bets’ to back his vision for the Judiciary, Justice Maraga listed clearance of case backlog as the second from top after enhancing access to justice.

Third on the agenda was dealing with corruption and handling of complaints.

He introduced service weeks, circuit courts and mobile courts and highlighted the Case Clearance Rate (CCR).

More on News