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Are courts opening a can of compensation suits against State officers?

By Wahome Thuku | June 12th 2015

Recent decisions by the Judiciary could trigger an increase in the number of suits filed against the Government, and even private organisations.

The judgements seen as bold steps by the courts to protect human rights could prompt more complainants to file suits, which may otherwise, not have ended in court corridors.

One such decision is the conviction of Deputy Solicitor General Muthoni  Kimani last month for failure to pay compensation awarded to a former political detainee by the High Court.

The judgement by Judge David Onyancha is being seen to have awakened Government officials to expedite the payment of such awards to successful litigants, and it could in return prompt more people to file suits against the Government.

Another decision that could trigger multiple suits in future, is a judgement in which the High Court ordered the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) to pay Sh5 million to two minors who were defiled by a teacher and forced to drop out of school.

"The judgements have confirmed that filing cases against the Government and State institutions can be rewarding and more people are likely to take note," says a Nairobi-based lawyer.

Every day, dozens of claims are filed against the State. They either arise from acts or commissions by public officers or violation of individual rights by State institutions.

But even after winning such cases, the litigants encounter lifelong difficulties in having the Government pay due to bureaucracy at the State Law Office, respective departments and the Treasury.

Many people awarded compensation against the State, die without receiving the money.

With the recent rulings, the High Court seems to have sent a wake up call especially with the convicting of Ms Kimani for failing to pay a Nyayo House torture victim Gitau Mwara Sh4.7 million as ordered.

Court contempt

She was found guilty of disobeying a court order issued on May 3, 2013. The High Court had ruled that Mr Mwara was tortured at Kamiti Maximum Prison between October 8, 1990 and June, 1993 where he had been unlawfully incarcerated.

She, however, pleaded with the court not to pass sentence immediately and within a week, she paid Mwara all the money and interest.

However Ms Kimani who was released on Sh1 million is still awaiting the sentencing.

Many other former political detainees are still awaiting millions of shillings in similar payments while others have pending cases or they are yet to file suits.

On the suit against TSC, Judge Mumbi Ngugi reproached the commission for failing to curb rising number of rogue teachers. She awarded Sh2 million to one girl and Sh3 million to the other.

"I direct that the awards be deposited in an interest-earning account in trust for them to be utilised to further their education with a view to their being able to make a sustainable living for themselves," she ruled.

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