Kapenguria law courts, a court with a difference
As early as 8 am on a weekday, Kapenguria Law Courts is abuzz with activities, to meet the judicial needs of residents in West Pokot County.
At its entrance, one would not miss to spot the lower court’s criminal and traffic registries. Here, officers attend to litigants and other court users from all walks of life.
Kapenguria Law Courts in West Pokot County.
Quite noticeable, is the evident human traffic that throngs the court to seek court services, every single day, in a county spread over a 9,169 square-kilometer area.
By 9 am the only courtroom, gradually fill to the brink as members of public and staff ready themselves for the day’s business even as other court officials help litigants and other visitors to locate their destinations in the court’s precincts.
On arrival, we are received by a staff, who guides us into the Executive Officer’s office, popularly referred to as the EO’s office. Here, we meet Mr Samuel Okodoi, from whom we learn has served in the station for close to four years running. Like in other stations, the officer is responsible for administration, a duty he executes in liaison with the head of station.
Later, we accompany him to Hon. Phoebe Kulecho’s chambers and then to Judge Stephen Githinji’s chambers. We are informed that the chambers also double as courtrooms.
Hon Phoebe Kulecho in her chambers at Kapenguria Law Courts.
Justice Githinji is the first judge to be posted to the station after the Judiciary gazetted the station as a High Court, in 2015.
This visit, obviously, has disrupted the officer’s schedules, yet normal activities continue uninterrupted. We are accorded audience during the 20-minute interview as we get to understand the county, the court, the type of cases the court handles and the challenges that impinge on service delivery in the county.
We are later taken around the courts, to the new court construction site and the famous Kapenguria six cells, currently, the Kapenguria Museum. While at his office, Mr Okodoi explains that the station has one courtroom as well as the Judge’s and Magistrates chambers.
“Kapenguria Law Courts happens to be the only court station in the vast West Pokot County, established during colonial period,” Mr Okodoi explains.
Mr Samuel Okodoi, Kapenguria Law Courts Executive Officer.
He adds: “The magistrates and Judge’s chambers double up as courtrooms due to limited space at the station.”
In 2017 alone, 54 cases were filed at the High Court while 1,133 at the criminal and 82 civil cases at the lower courts.
“Most common cases are those that arise from land related issues, murder and sexual offences Act,” says Judge Githinji.
He adds: “The greatest challenge here is the vastness of the county and the nomadic life that makes it difficult for the police to avail witnesses in court.”
Judge Stephen Githinji in his chambers during an interview with The Judiciary News and Features Service
According to the 2009 Population Census, over 512,690 people, reside in this vast county, which practice predominantly nomadic pastoralism and crop farming as well as mining and other commercial activities.
Ultra-modern court building
Meanwhile, the competing noise of bulldozers, excavator machines, and concrete mixers blended with sound from heavy vehicles, characterise the environment that surround the Kapenguria law court station.
New site where construction of the ultra-modern court building for Kapenguria Law Courts is underway.
A glimpse of hope is gradually becoming visible as the Judiciary through the World Bank funded Judiciary Performance Improvement Project (JPIP), construct an ultra-modern High Court building in the area.
The court building being constructed at the cost of Ksh400, 963, 501 in Kapenguria town, will have eight courtrooms, 11 chambers, spacious registries, separate cells for male, female and juveniles.
“It will provide rooms for witness protection and lactating mothers for staff and litigants. It also provides rooms for children, ICT and security facilities, library and lounges for judges and magistrates,” explains Nicholas Simani, the JPIP Communications Consultant.
He adds: “The new court facility will provide a conducive environment for employees and court users, improve access to information and in turn enhance service delivery.”
The first court
Remembered for hosting the leading Kenyan nationalists – the Kapenguria six, West Pokot County boasts of a court established way back before independence as the first African Court.
The current Chewoyet secondary school stands where the six leading Kenyan nationalists were tried but jailed at Kapenguria where the cells were located, currently next to the West Pokot County Assembly.
The current court building was donated by the County Government of West Pokot. This constitutes the working space for the 25 staff and three judicial officers, who operate from the premises as they await the construction of a new court building, located a couple of meters away.
Establishing more High Courts in marginalised areas
When Kapenguria court station was made a High Court in 2015, a judge was immediately posted. The lower court is served by two magistrates. Kapenguria Law Courts operates two mobile courts; one at Sigor, located 80 Kms away from Kapenguria town and another at Alale, located about 180 Kms away.
The Kapenguria High Court is among 14 others the Judiciary established in 2015 to bring court services closer to the people. The establishment of Kapenguria High Court saw High Court cases from West Pokot County that were being handled at Kitale, moved to the new court.
“Most of the current caseload at the High Court was inherited from the High Court of Kitale,” says the Judge.
The Judiciary established other High Courts in Turkana, Marsabit, Baringo, Tana River, Taita Taveta, Laikipia, Nyamira, Siaya, Tharaka Nithi, Migori, Kajiado, Kitui and Bomet counties. The courts include: Lodwar, Marsabit, Kabarnet, Tana River, Voi, Nanyuki, Nyamira, Siaya, Chuka, Migori, Kajiado, Kitui and Bomet High Courts. This brought to 34, the number of High Court stations in the country in 2015. So far, there are 39 High Courts in the country.
The establishment of more High Courts was informed by the need to reduce long distances citizens have to cover to access courts. Other factors that played a role in the establishment of more courts are: the empirical data such as caseload for each Station/Division and the constitutional and statutory considerations including principles of equity, inclusivity, de-marginalisation, and support for devolution.
This enabled court stations hitherto serving several counties, and therefore bearing huge caseloads drawn from such large catchment areas, release part of their caseload.