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Bringing justice to the people, the mobile courts of Baringo

RIFT VALLEY
By Yvonne Chepkwony | May 12th 2021
A mobile court in session at Nyginyang in Tiaty Constituency on May 6, 2021.[Yvonne Chepkwony, Standard]

Justice can be hard to come by in remote areas of Baringo County such as in Tiaty constituency, where no regular court exists since independence.

While in other parts of the country people are versed with the saying justice delayed is justice denied, here they argue that it is better served cold than not at all.

Pachao Karuponyang, a resident of Tiaty was charged with assault in January 2020. It is alleged that he assaulted his brother and was released on a cash bail of Sh15,000.

He could not raise the cash bail and has been in custody since. And on May 6, 2021, when the case was scheduled for hearing at a mobile court in Nginyang trading center, witnesses failed to turn up.

Witnesses in case failed to show up and the prosecution could not reach them on the phone because they do not have cell phones.

Baringo senior resident magistrate Nerolyne Idagwa, who presided over the case was in the area for the first session of the mobile that happens thrice in a month, was told that Karuponyang wanted to reconcile with the victim.

The mobile court comprises of a prosecutor, suspects, court clerks and orderlies. They travel to the location three times in one month. 

During the heating, the accused- two wives were present in court, with their neighbour who informed the court that they would wish to bail the suspect.

However, they could not post the bail because the digital system at the Judiciary could not operate without electricity.

“It’s unfortunate we don’t have power, due to digitization and without power, the transaction will not go through,” Ms Idagwa said.

But as Karuponyang ponders what next for him, John (the second name withheld) is delighted after the court finalized his theft case.

“I have waited for ten months now. Finally, justice has prevailed,” he said the case filed by one of his village mates was dismissed due to lack of sufficient evidence.

The disruption caused by incidences of cattle rustling in the North Rift conflict zones has all but paralyzed the judicial system in the county.

The situation has been compounded by lack of a building to house the courtroom in the constituency that has never had a court since independence.

In a bid to overcome this challenge, the Judiciary under the access to justice program has set up a mobile court that tours the area three times in one month to dispense justice.

The sessions are normally held at Chemulingot and Nginyang trading centers that are considered central places in the vast constituency.

Here justice is welcomed by all and sundry, including Domoo Nakule, who had to wait for three years to have his case of alleged theft of livestock tried.

“I have been locked up for a long time. I am happy that the case has been decided and that compensation was the court’s preferred verdict,” said Nakule.

The mobile court in Tiaty which, headed by Ms Idagwa and her colleague Senior Principal Magistrate Paul Biwott, is brought a big relief to residents.

 “We are handling cases of murder, rape, robbery, theft, defilement, assault, stock theft, children cases, poaching of wildlife trophies and the harvest of sandalwood,” Mr Biwott said.

“Some of the complainants live very far away. When you are ready to summon them, fighting erupts somewhere, sometimes preventing them from reaching our court in Nginyang town. We also have a challenge with translators, in that the residents are being transferred to other areas thus becoming difficult when it comes to translation,” the magistrate added.

“When we asked the head office to give us a mobile court we wanted to take justice near to the people, but due to limited resource.

“We had a mobile court, it is becoming expensive in terms of traveling to those areas, the area mp approached the judiciary in head office and asked for partnership so that we can have a resident court there to avoid issues of transport, we have been offered Sh10million,” Biwott said.

Biwott said that distance is challenge to them as judiciary traveling from Kabarnet to Chemolingot for a mobile case was cumbersome, where they used a lot of fuel, experiencing of wear and tear for the motor vehicles, something that he said that the resident court will assist.

“We have no structure at the moment, we do our cases under a tree, but due to the efforts by the area MP and the locals, the construction of the new structure will commence on the next financial year which is June/ July, and we will have solved the issues of long-distance raveling while seeking justice” he added.

For civil cases, the community is said to have a way of solving them, the magistrate said the criminal cases they mostly handle are a source of civil cases which the elders had failed to solve well.

Joseck Abwajo from the Directorate of Public Prosecution added that one of the challenges is that most cases in the region end up not being reported, due to the cost of justice.

“One of the challenge which exist within the larger Tiaty area is the question of this case even being reported, because the cost of justice, due to the vast area or the landmass of Tiaty become a challenge due to poor infrastructures, where someone has to travel from Kolowa to Nginyang to be heard in mobile court,” said Abwajo.

According to Abwajo, the prosecution has been having problems when it comes to witnesses, sometimes witnesses spent around Sh4, 000 on a motorcycle to reach the mobile court once a month when we have court, which turns to be expensive.

The prosecutor said that Alternative Dispute Resolution which the community sometimes uses can become a challenge in instances where the accused is in custody, the accused and complainant can’t meet, therefore becoming hard to pursue reconciliation.

Another challenge that the prosecution encounters is the issue of reaching these witnesses, in that most of them don’t have phones, and the only way they can be reached is through the area chief.

He said this forces the investigating officer to rely on the report given by the chief.

Tiaty MP William Kamket has donated Sh10 million CDF fund to Judiciary to be used for the construction of a court on a four-acre parcel of land donated by the community for easy access to justice, which the locals said that they have been denied for long.

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