The launch of the Alternative Justice Systems (AJS) Baseline Policy and Associated Policy Framework yesterday is a milestone and a new beginning for Kenya inasmuch as the administration of justice is concerned.
Since independence, the wheels of justice have been turning extremely slowly and it has taken several decades for some court cases to be concluded. Many have died while still waiting for their cases to be determined.
While issues such as corruption slow down the dispensation of justice, there are several other issues that weaken the Judiciary’s efficiency. They include poor staffing, inadequate infrastructure and funding. This means the Judiciary is not wholly to blame for the sluggish pace of dispensing justice.
In fact, Chief Justice David Maraga and Willy Mutunga before him have tried their best, through raising the number of judicial officers, building more courts and adopting use of information communication technology, to bolster the Judiciary.
These measures have been helpful, but not enough to deal with huge backlog of cases. Commenting about the state of affairs in the Judiciary in July, Maraga lamented: “A small case like a rent dispute between a landlord and a tenant is taking up to three years when it could be resolved in a matter of days if we had the adequate workforce”.
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That underscores the import of yesterday’s move. Through the AJS mechanism, parties will resolve disputes without recourse to courts.
But this is hardly a new concept. Majority of Kenyans prefer alternative methods of dispute resolution. In 2006, the Governance, Justice, Law and Order Sector revealed, after a study, that a paltry 4 per cent of people seeking justice go to court.
This means, a whopping 96 per cent prefer out-of-court arbitration, which according to Article 159 (2)(c) of the Constitution includes traditional and alternative dispute resolution systems.
By being legally recognised and encouraged, it means more people will now go for AJS. As the Chief Justice pointed out for the umpteenth time, some disputes involving family members and land matters can effectively be dealt with through alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.
Doing so will take the pressure off courts and enable the judicial officers to dispense with the cases before them as quickly as possible. Once it takes root, AJS will take a substantial number of cases of the court’s back and soon judges and magistrates will perhaps only have one excuse, lethargy, for not dispensing with cases before them within the expected time.