IMPACT OF JUDICIARY BUDGET CUT. By Shikhutuli Namusyule and Lilian Mueni
The Constitution of Kenya 2010 gave the impetus to reform and restructuring of the country’s justice sector. This was aimed at ensuring that the Judiciary plays a key role in advancing and stabilising our democracy.
Besides the Constitutional imperative to deliver efficient service, the public demanded an efficient, effective and responsive institution. The Judiciary, being a key player in the Justice System, embarked on a transformation path that has seen it reform the way justice is delivered to the people and restore public faith and confidence.
A lot has gone into this process that has seen the growth in jurisprudence and judicial independence. The new Judiciary has precipitated improved delivery and access to justice, transformative leadership, development of organizational culture geared towards excellence, adequate financial resources and physical infrastructure and use of technology as an enabler for justice.
However, the Judiciary has faced many challenges, key among them being lack of adequate facilities and infrastructure to enable it to function efficiently and effectively.
Basic facilities in many courts in the country are, to say the least, undignified. In some courts, holding cells that are simple, crowded makeshift structures that desecrate the rights and dignity of the prisoners. In some cases, adults and children are made to share the same facility. Inside the courts themselves, the crowding poses a clear security risk not only to the court staff but the court users as well.
The infrastructure development and establishment of High Court stations in all counties, which have been key planks in the ongoing Judiciary transformation, are not just a management endeavour but a Constitutional requirement as well: Each county must have a High Court station in order to take justice closer to the people.
Under Sustaining Judiciary Transformation (SJT) blueprint, Chief Justice David Maraga promised to enhance access to justice by speedy disposal of cases; a new digital strategy; and effective leadership and governance and ethical practices, with clear timelines for all the pillars.
Given the recent developments where the National Assembly slashed the Judiciary budget mercilessly, Judiciary transformation programme, as well as the promises made by the CJ to the Kenyan people on improving access to justice, may not be realized.
The National Government’s Budgetary Policy Statement capped the Judiciary’s budget at Kshs.17.3 billion, with recurrent expenditure at Kshs 13.3 billion and Development expenditure at Kshs 4 billion. This comprised Ksh1.05 Billion from the Government, a World Bank loan facility of Kshs. 2.9 billion, and a JSC ceiling of Sh479.6 million.
However, when Parliament passed the Appropriation Act, the Judiciary’s total budget allocation was further reduced to Kshs. 14.5 Billion. Out of this, the development budget from the government is only Kshs. 50 Million. The money is expected to cover new and ongoing projects, repairs and maintenance, as well as ICT infrastructure for the courts.
According to the Judicial Service Commission, the undertaking by the Chief Justice to ensure that all cases above five years old are cleared by December 2018 is now a mirage.
Following the cuts, delivery of service to 43 million Kenyans will be affected severely. Over 70 court construction projects are at risk of stalling. They include 41 Government-funded projects which are currently at various stages of completion and 29 World Bank-funded projects. This is also because the World Bank Sh11.5 billion loan facility through which many of Judiciary projects have been funded expires in December this year implying that more than Sh4 billion will be required to complete the projects.
As it is now, Kenyans are expected to see suspension of more than 50 Mobile Courts, derailment of the case backlog clearance, discontinuation of the ICT and modernization of court systems, halting of any new court Constructions. The net result is reduced access to justice by Kenyans and slow disposal of cases.
Kabarnet Law Courts for instance operated two mobile courts which have been suspended since last year. The cases reported in the affected areas have reduced by more than 80 percent due to the distance covered by the litigants to get to main court.
Most of the affected are the poor and it is only when justice reaches the weak, and the rule of law protects the indigent, that we, as a country, can say that our Constitution is living up to its juridical and developmental promise of equality and equity.
It is high time the government recognizes that investment in the rule of law is not only its recognition of an inherently good social value, but also an acknowledgment of the direct link between the rule of law, economic development and political stability.
The JSC has stated that while the Judiciary shall continue doing its best to deliver justice to Kenyans, judicial services will this year be severely affected as a result of the budget cuts.
Shikhutuli Namusyule and Lilian Mueni are Public Communication Officers at the Judiciary. Emails: email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org