Chief Justice David Maraga has announced the gazettement of four new High Court stations in Isiolo, Vihiga, Kwale and Nandi.
This brings to 43 the number of High Courts in 42 counties, with Nakuru having two located in Naivasha and Nakuru town.
Speaking in Isiolo during the official opening of the new Isiolo Law Courts building whose construction was funded by the World Bank to the tune of Sh379M, Justice Maraga said the Judiciary will now be able to accommodate the first High Court station in Isiolo County.
“This brings us closer to our aspiration of having a High Court in each of the 47 counties as spelt in the blueprint we launched in January 2017, Sustaining Judiciary Transformation. Only five counties – Samburu, West Pokot, Wajir, Mandera and Elgeyo Marakwet – are yet to get a High Court station,” he said.
Further the CJ said that in the last four years, the number of magistrate courts has increased from 120 to 127.
“This excludes an additional 14 stations that have been gazetted today, which will bring the total to 141 stations when the new ones are operationalised,’’ he announced.
The CJ said that the Sustaining Judiciary Transformation blueprint’s focus was the improvement of service delivery through five key pillars namely access to justice; Clearance of case backlog; Integrity; Digital strategy and Leadership and Governance.
Taking stock of the progress towards achieving the same, Justice Maraga noted that interventions geared towards enhancing access to justice, included not only expansion of court physical footprint, but also the mainstreaming of Alternative Justice Systems, whose policy was launched three weeks ago.
“AJS has had tremendous impact in Isiolo, with not only a significant reduction in the number of cases that end up in court but even more importantly, easing of conflict between the different communities that live here,” he remarked.
Other Alternative Dispute Resolution methods include the Court Annexed Mediation, which he disclosed has had a great impact for the business community with monies that had been held up in litigation being returned to the economy.
Besides enhancing access to justice through improvement of already existing court stations, Justice Maraga said the Judiciary has endeavoured to construct new courts where none previously existed, therefore reducing the distances travelled by litigants.
“Over the last four years, we have constructed 61 court buildings out of which 15 have already been officially opened. Another seven – Kakamega, Nakuru, Kajiado, Maralal, Voi, Siaya and Kapenguria – are ready and will be opened in the next few weeks,” he observed.
Turning to another of his flagship projects which is the clearance of case backlog, the CJ noted that at the onset of the SJT in January 2017 there were a little over 170,000 cases aged above five years which the courts intended to clear by December 2018.
There are now 35,000 cases in this age bracket, denoting a 79 per cent reduction. He termed it a significant achievement considering that this figure includes new cases that have since transited into the five-year band.
In reference to the recently-launched Electronic Filing system widely used in Nairobi, CJ revealed that the same will soon be rolled out in all other parts of the country.
“Today, the only way you can file a case in Nairobi is through E-Filing, which comes with electronic fees assessment and payment modules. It also generates e-receipts, which minimises pilferage of court revenue and is also enabled for electronic service of court processes,” he said, adding that the digital strategy focuses on the digitisation of all court processes, including registry operations and all but five courts in the country have the requisite reliable internet connection and more than half are using the Case Tracking System to enhance efficiency.
The new Isiolo Courts building has eight court rooms and 12 chambers. It is one of the 28 court building projects funded by the World Bank through the Judiciary Performance Improvement Project (JPIP).
Isiolo Senator Fatuma Dulo asked the CJ to post an Environment and Land judge to Isiolo to handle the many land cases in the area.
“I am aware that for this to happen, the President needs to hasten the pending appointment of 41 judges. This must be done immediately,” she said.
She said that due to the vast geographical spread of county, residents are still forced to travel very long distances to access justice.
The CJ promised to post a magistrate to Garba Tulla, which is currently only served by a Kadhi’s Court.