The rusty and crowded law courts of Nyanza

Ukwala court in Ugenya, Siaya County is one of the newly refurbished law courts in Nyanza region. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]
Rusty, dilapidated and squeezed chambers are common hallmarks of Nyanza’s forgotten courts.

Most buildings have leaking roofs and poor ventilation while court rooms have old furniture.

Judicial staff, lawyers and the public have raised concerns over the sorry state of courts that have been in use for many years.

A spotcheck by The Standard across the region established a worrying state of several courts, with lawyers claiming the alarming disrepair was also having a negative bearing on dispensing justice.

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Too small

Some of the chambers are too small and can only accommodate lawyers and their clients. In the afternoons, some of the courtrooms are extremely hot.

Although the Judiciary has tried to improve some of the facilities, several stations are still relying on small buildings built in the colonial period.

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So dire is the situation that a magistrate stopped using the Kisumu Municipal Court early this year after complaining about its condition.

A number of court officials told The Standard the building that is poorly maintained had become a haven for rats and cockroaches, which have been destroying court files.

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The officials also complained of frequent mosquito bites during sessions, a situation that has also affected court proceedings in the region.

Winam law court, one of the oldest in the region, is the worst.

When The Standard visited the court, a group of people were jostling for space in one of the two courtrooms.

Stand outside

Some were compelled to stand outside as the proceedings continued. The court room is too small and can only hold four benches, including one for the advocates.

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“The space is too small and there is no ventilation. This compels some court users to stay outside and only learn later that their cases had already been mentioned,” said a court staffer.

Outside the courts, a makeshift structure made of iron sheets is what acts like the customer care desk.

Law Society of Kenya Western region chairman Bruce Odeny told The Standard the condition of the court was demeaning even to the Judiciary staff.

Kisumu law courts, which had been tipped to be a leading example of a reformed Judiciary after a new 14-chamber court was launched in 2015, is no different.

The frequent malfunctioning of its lifts, which saw a warder stuck for more than two hours in August this year, is a pointer to how poorly the building has been maintained.

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Despite the building still being new, it has been poorly maintained with part of its roof leaking in what officials have blamed on low funding for maintenance.

At the lower courts within the same vicinity, some offices on the first floor are exposed to dust while some courtrooms have dysfunctional fans.

Low funding

Despite low funding, the Judiciary has started the process of installing loud speakers to enable court users follow proceedings with ease.

Last Thursday, Senior Principal Magistrate Robinson Ondieki, while addressing Court Users Committee at a hotel in the town, said they had received a lot of complaints from several lawyers and court users about poor audibility during sessions.

Ukwala law courts, which is one of the oldest, does not have a fence to bar intruders from accessing it despite the sensitivity of some of the cases it has been handling.

One of the court rooms has poor ventilation and a wooden chair for the magistrate.

Some of the exhibits have also been placed in the corridors of one of the premises.

At Siaya law courts, lawyers claimed the office of the judge does not befit the stature of the judicial officer.

Old chairs

Other courts that have been affected by poor infrastructure include a number of tribunals, which are also relying on old chairs and small rooms. They include the Rent Tribunal that is located around Kamas in Kisumu.

“As lawyers we are concerned and we have always raised concerns over the conditions of some of the courts. We are hoping that something will be done to improve the infrastructure,” said Odeny. In the last three years, however, the Judiciary has launched some new court buildings in the region including Nyando and Oyugis law courts.

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Law courtsKisumu countyLaw Society of Kenya