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Njuri Ncheke courts adjourn due to pandemic

By Phares Mutembei | August 4th 2020 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

Njuri Ncheke court presiding judges during a session. The court in Nkomo ward in Tigania West, Meru, has stopped its work of arbitrating land and other disputes among members of the community, because of the coronavirus. PHOTOS: PHARES MUTEMBEI/STANDARD

Traditional courts run by Njuri Ncheke Council of Elders have stopped holding sessions in the wake of the coronavirus.

This has inconvenienced many residents who used the courts to resolves disputes revolving around marriage, theft and witchcraft.

Since the courts were closed last week, cases have been piling with residents at a loss where to turn to seek redress.

Secretary General (Programmes) Washington Muthamia told The Standard that although there were many pending cases before the elders in Meru and Tharaka Nithi counties, they had halted proceedings in line with Ministry of Health guidelines to contain the spread of Covid-19.

“We have stopped all proceedings until the situation stabilises and the government gives us the green light to resume hearings,” Muthamia said yesterday.

Urgent cases

One of the land disputes before the Njuri Ncheke involves Douglas Mwenda and Josphat Mugambi.

In his submission before the elders, Mwenda told the elders that he had bought five acres of land at Ruri-Rwarera ward in Buuri Sub County from Mugambi's father, now deceased. (Mwenda.

Mwenda wants the Njuri court to give a ruling over the matter, saying he paid Sh320,000 for the land and should be left to put it to use. However, he says, Mugambi and his family want to repossess the parcel. 

According to Muthamia, the traditional courts are working at finding ways to resolve urgent cases. 

“If there are cases that cannot wait, we are ready to step in and resolve. We have many pending land and inheritance cases before us, and will continue hearing them when the virus is under control,” he said.

Njuri Ncheke has courts in the locations in the two counties.

“The elders in the locations hear and determine many cases. But if the parties to the cases are not able to agree, or one is dissatisfied with a ruling, they escalate it to the sub-county level. If they still don’t settle, it is brought to our supreme court,” Muthamia revealed.

The six-bench Supreme Court which sits at the Nchiru Shrine headquarters is composed of chairman Linus Kathera, Muthamia, Josphat Murangiri (Secretary General - Programmes), the treasurer and their deputies.

Muthamia and other elders said they have the capacity to settle cases which drag on for up to 10 years in normal courts.

“The wazee are in every sub-county and have intimate knowledge of the people and their land. When a case is brought to us by elders and the parties to the case, we speak in the native language which all understand. Some, especially elderly, are not able to communicate effectively in the normal courts,” he said.

He said they hold sessions in local language, where parties give testimonies coherently, unlike in the normal courts where they do not understand the legal jargon.

He is appealing to the Judiciary to forward pending cases at the Meru courts to the elders as they resolve them faster and at no cost.

“We hear and determine the cases within a maximum of two months. Some of our judgements have been accepted by the High Court. We want to help decongest the courts, because a big number of cases are land-related. It is cheaper and faster. Some people have been rendered poor by the legal fees charged by lawyers,” he said.

He said the elders use their own resources, and would appreciate if the government facilitates them with funds.

Ombudsman Florence Kajuju, who is also a former Meru woman rep, in a past interview said up to 90 per cent of cases at Meru courts are land-related.

Kajuju, a lawyer, said the disputes had turned into lengthy succession battles in the courts.

Njuri Ncheke Council of Elders
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