Inadequate funding linked to backlog of criminal and civil cases

President William Ruto and Chief Justice Matha Koome during the launch of the Administration of Justice in Kenya Annual report on December 5, 2022. [Samson Wire, Standard]

As courts deal with a backlog of criminal and civil cases, insufficient funding has been cited as severely hampering justice delivery.

In 2021, a total of 257,205 criminal cases were filed in courts, with 231,415 of them resolved and 25,790 remaining unresolved.

During the same period, the National Police Service handled more than 500,000 criminal cases, 81,272 of which were serious crimes.

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) handled 447,572 cases, while the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) handled 4,997 complaints.

The figures on case status are included in the inaugural Administration of Justice in Kenya Annual Report 2021-22, which was released yesterday as key members of the National Council on Administration of Justice (NCAJ) assessed progress made thus far.

In addition, courts and other penal organs referred 66,086 people to the Probation and Aftercare Services department.

As courts continued to be overburdened with court cases, prisons remained overcrowded, with a prison population of 54,795 exceeding recommended capacity.

“Despite the myriad achievements realised, various challenges adversely affected the efficient administration of justice during the period under review, key among them being inadequate funding,” said NCAJ’s executive director Dr Moses Marang’a. 

NCAJ is a high-level policy formulation, implementation, and oversight coordination mechanism comprised of both State and non-State actors.

Among those serving on the Council are the ODPP, Chief Justice, Attorney General, Inspector General of Police, Commissioner General of Prisons, Chairperson of the Law Society of Kenya, Director of Witness Protection Agency, Director of Probation and After-care Services, a representative from human rights organisations, and a representative from non-governmental organisations.

The funding requirement for select core NCAJ agencies, according to Marang'a, was Sh253 billion, but the approved budget was Sh166 billion.

“This resulted in a funding gap in the financial year 2021/22 of Sh87 billion. Out of the approved budget of Sh166 billion, Sh159 billion was recurrent since most of the NCAJ agencies are services oriented while the rest went towards development expenditure,” Marang'a said. 

Various NCAJ agencies handled a total of 26,864 vulnerable people while improving access to justice for vulnerable groups.

According to Marang'a, perceived poor relations between the public and some justice sector employees may have hampered service delivery.

"There were delays in criminal justice processes, notably investigations, prosecution, and timely resolution of disputes due to frequent adjournment of cases," Marang'a added. Slow adoption of technology was identified as another bottleneck, as was access to legal aid services failing to reach the desired level.

Chief Justice Martha Koome emphasised that the judiciary faced numerous challenges, including financial constraints that hampered its operations.

President Ruto assured the judiciary of the government's commitment to providing resources to ensure the four unfinished small claims courts in Nairobi are operational within three months.

"I will speak with the Nairobi Governor to expedite the completion of the four pending small claims courts," Dr Ruto said. e distanced himself from opposition leader Raila Odinga's accusations that he was out to muzzle key institutions like the judiciary.