In the hustle and bustle that is characteristic of Kitale town in Trans Nzoia County, lies Kitale Law Courts located on the busy Moi Avenue.
The court, comprising of a High Court, Environment and Land Court (ELC) and the lower courts (Magistrates and Kadhis courts), is a beehive of activities as evidenced by the court users who mill in the corridors of justice seeking court services.
A customer care officer serves clients at Kitale Law Courts
Quite notable, is the busy customer care desk with an officer on his feet, distributing IEC materials, forms and assisting court users to locate court rooms, chambers and registries. Further, and for a clear perspective of the caseload at this station, in 2016 alone, 8,041 matters were filed at the lower court, 185 at ELC and 374 at the High Court.
Since its inception, Kitale Law Courts served only as a magistrate court until 1997 when a High Court registry was established with a visiting judge from the Eldoret High Court. The superior court was established at the station and a judge deployed to handle High Court matters. Further, Kitale was among the first stations to get a judge to handle environment and land matters after the promulgation of the Constitution of Kenya 2010.
The lower court was initially headed by a Resident Magistrate, then by Senior Resident Magistrate, Principal Magistrate and between 1995 and 2005, by a Senior Principal Magistrate.
“The first Chief Magistrate was deployed to head the station in 2005,” Mr Stephen Omuse, the court’s Executive Officer, explained.
This is the only court in Trans Nzoia County serving a population of 966,197, which reside in the three sub-counties comprising of five constituencies. The station also serves parts of Elgeyo Marakwet County.
Kitale court building comprise of six courtrooms, nine chambers and two rooms that carter for four registries, namely; Civil, Probate, criminal and traffic registries. One courtroom serves a High Court judge, another, the ELC judge, while the remaining four, serve four magistrates. The station has a total of two judges, seven magistrates and 70 members of staff.
The station operates Kachibora mobile court, located 30 Kilometres from Kitale town. To deliver service effectively to the residents living in county, Kitale law Courts proposed two more mobile courts, one at Kiminini and another at Endebes.
“A mobile court at Kachibora that is now operational was launched in June 2017,” said Head of Station, Chief Magistrate, Valentine Wandera.
He added: “We have requested for two more mobile courts to be established at Endebes and Kiminini centres so as to take services closer to the people and other court users.”
Further, the court’s administration has proposed the construction of a new court building to provide more space for administration of justice. Specifically, the court requires space for two more courtrooms and rooms to provide for separate cells for women, men and children.
“We have requested for funds to put up a new building that would provide more working space for staff as well as courtrooms, chambers and registries,” said Hon Wandera.
He added that the court has developed a case management system that enables litigants to establish the status of their cases through the SMS function.
“This helps us address concerns of litigants instead of coming to court to confirm dates that they would have otherwise checked on their phones,” the Chief Magistrate explained. This has enabled the court to manage, organize and expedite its matters.
However, amid the space and other constraints, the first evaluation exercise conducted to measure the performance of courts between October and December 2016, indicated that Kitale emerged the best overall performing court in the category of High Courts with 500 and below initiated cases.
This exercise sought to establish the extent to which implementing units n the Judiciary had achieved negotiated targets, identify areas that need improvement and in turn provide credible reliable and useful performance information, for effective decision-making. During this period, the court recorded a case clearance rate of 200 per cent.
“One of the major challenges is the lack of a sign language officer at the court. This has made it difficult to handle matters with speed especially involving people with hearing disabilities,” Mr Stephen Omuse said.
Kitale Law Courts Executive Officer Stephen Omuse speaks with pupils during the Kitale ASK show in October 2017This he says delay cases due to bureaucracies encountered in outsourcing for the personnel to perform the function.
In the meantime, the court has established workstations with lockable cabinets, organised court archives for better filing system and established a sports ground.