Mombasa court where law reports were birthed

The Mombasa Old Law Court, located on the hill between the Old Town and Treasury Square on Nkrumah Road, was built by the British in the 20th century as the new administrative centre of Mombasa.

It was officially opened on December 31, 1902 by Sir Charles Eliot, the then commissioner and governor for British East Africa.

The old law court resemble most of the surrounding architecture in the Treasury Square area, including the Old Treasury Building, Kenya Commercial Bank, the Old Post Office and the Alien Registration Building, which were built by the British in 20th Century.

Despite being built by the British, the old law court took Swahili construction patterns.

The walls are made of coral stones of different sizes bound together with mortar consisting of lime plaster and whitewash. However, the building has also some European elements such as the rustic coloured tiles. The blending of Swahili elements is characteristic of colonial architecture of the town.

The gradual build-up of a legal system in Mombasa from early IBEA Co period was as follows:

In 1890, British Court was instituted by the IBEA Co in Mombasa, presided over by an English barrister.

In 1896, the government, having taken over the administration of the country from the company, a legal vice-consul was appointed to preside over the court.

In 1899, the judicial officer received the title of H M Judge.

A second judge was appointed to H M Judge in 1901 and in 1902, the High Court for East Africa was created and the two judges appointed by Royal Commission.

It is interesting to note that a sincere attempt was made during this early part of the Portuguese period to understand native customs and law.

The first law report was compiled by Justice R W Hamilton, who was the Chief Justice of East Africa Protectorate and also a principal judge of the High Court.

The Kenya Law Reports were published between 1897 and 1905, being the first output of law reports for the East Africa Protectorate. They included the decisions of the then High Court of East Africa, the Court of Appeal for Eastern Africa and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council on appeal from the Court of Appeal for Eastern Africa.

The early editions were compiled by R W Hamilton, the principal judge of the High Court. Later, between 1922 and 1956, some 21 volumes of these reports were published featuring the decisions of the High Court.

Under the Order –in-Council, the protectorate was formed, presided over by a judicial officer in 1897.

In 1907, it was decided that there was no sufficient number of cases in Nairobi to justify a monthly visit to that city by a High Court judge.

The old law court remained the legal administrative centre until after the First World War, when it moved to Nairobi.

The capital was transferred from Mombasa to Nairobi in 1907 and as a build-up, Mombasa receded into second place.

The Old Law Court buildings in Mombasa have changed very little since Sir Charles opened them at the turn of the century, but the building is planned for renovation.

Today, it is sometimes used as court chambers where sittings from Mombasa High Court are held. It also has chambers which hold Department of Coastal Archeology.

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