Help majority who shun formal courts, judges told

Chief Justice Martha Koome with Kabarak University vice chancellor Prof Henry Kiplagat during the Alternative Justice System (AJS) Conference at Kabarak University on June 5,2024. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Chief Justice Martha Koome has called on judges and magistrates to promote the Alternative Justice System (AJS) to improve efficiency.

According to Koome, research has shown that only 10 per cent of Kenyans seek justice through the formal court process.

She said 71 per cent resolve disputes outside court while 19 per cent do not take action.

Speaking during the third Annual AJS Conference at the  Kabarak University in Nakuru, Koome asked the courts to “create ideal opportunity and start animated conversations on how to accelerate people-centered justice.” “Which justice are we dispensing if our focus is on a formal system that only takes care of a few Kenyans?”

She urged the courts and court users to reach out to those who either feel the formal system is unfair or are unaware of other avenues to seek justice.

“We know the problems we have and how to solve them,” she said.

Her sentiments were echoed by the Deputy Chief Justice of Uganda, Justice Richard Buteera, who said the situation is similar in the country.

He said 90 per cent of cases are resolved through AJS, especially based on traditions, chiefs barazas and through mediators.

Buteera said conflicts among tribes, kingdoms, families and nations have been resolved through traditions.

“The resolutions have prompted peace in the country and Ugandans lived in harmony,” said Buteera.

He said even after the formal court system was introduced, few embraced it while others ignored it because it was strange to them.

“Ugandans prefer compensation as an alternative, plea bargains and we also consider victims in determining sentences,” he said. The university Vice Chancellor Henry Kiplagat said the idea of AJS resonates with the vision of the institution.

He said programmes have been introduced in the School of Law to develop skills on multiple dispute resolution systems.

“We have developed a centre for multiple justice systems including mediation, arbitration among others,” said Prof Kiplagat, adding that students have participated in various competitions on negotiation skills, mediation and dispute resolution.

“In December, 2021, we won a gold medal award as best negotiators and in May, 2024, we were the best in the All Africa Mediation Tournament.”

Henriette Geiger, the EU ambassador to Kenya, said AJS was also strong in Europe. She said the system is accessible, quicker, affordable and reduces backlog in courts.

Justice Joel Ngugi, the chair of the steering committee on AJS implementation, said the system is not inferior and it should be recognised. He said it would help close the justice gap and also ensure equal justice to all.