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Poverty should not impede your access to justice anymore

Opinion

Every year, thousands of Kenyans cry for justice because they have no means to go through the legal court process.

This has led to heartbreaks and agony within communities and families who cannot find solutions to their legal problems while other people have ended up in jail for inability to raise legal costs and lack of awareness on their legal rights. The current poverty divide hinders the poor, vulnerable and marginalised communities from accessing justice. But that should no longer be the case; the National Legal Aid Service (NLAS) has opened its doors to help such disadvantaged groups to access justice free of charge.

NLAS offers free legal advice, legal representation, promotes use of alternative dispute resolution and drafting of court documents for vulnerable clients. In addition, NLAS creates awareness through provision of legal information and law related education while undertaking legal advocacy work on behalf of the community. Kenyan citizens, children, refugees, victims of human trafficking, internally displaced persons or stateless persons are eligible to ask for free legal assistance from NLAS in civil disputes, criminal cases, children cases, constitutional cases and cases of public interest.

The services are offered in compliance with Article 19 (2) of the Constitution which provides that the purpose of recognising and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms is to preserve the dignity of individuals and communities and to promote social justice. Despite the many interventions that have been put in place under the Legal Aid Act, the delivery of legal aid continues to face systematic, technical and financial challenges, making the poor more vulnerable to unfair decisions contrary to their human rights.

With increasing need of legal assistance, the government and the European Union signed a Financing Agreement to implement the Programme for Legal Empowerment and Aid Delivery (PLEAD) to enhance access to justice. PLEAD’s aims to develop an integrated approach at the central and local levels aimed at equality of all before the law, through improved access to and the expeditious delivery of justice particularly in high-risk counties. PLEAD targets five counties with the largest urban centres and seven counties of the most marginalised areas of North Eastern Kenya where the rule of law is particularly challenged due to social inequalities and abject poverty.

They are Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru, Uasin Gishu, Wajir, Mandera, Lamu, Tana River, Garissa, Marsabit, Isiolo, Kisumu, Nairobi, Mombasa, Uasin Gishu and Nakuru. The financial support extended to NLAS under the PLEAD programme is to ensure that there is access to legal aid in the marginalized and high-risk counties and that the public are aware of their legal rights and how to access them.

The target of the legal aid services is for those who cannot afford legal representation to enforce or claim their rights. This has helped NLAS to expand its reach and effectiveness especially the poor and vulnerable. To ensure people in the 12 counties access justice, NLAS has been organising mobile legal aid clinics and legal awareness campaigns.

Ogemba is a communications consultant, National Legal Aid Service under the Programme for Legal Empowerment and Aid Delivery

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