Shanzu Law Courts: Transformation Through a Magistrate’s Eyes
When she reported at the Shanzu Law Courts three years ago as the head of station, Hon Diana Mochache found that the station had one Magistrate and one court room, commonly referred to as Court 1. There was no courtroom for an additional judicial officer.
There was need then to improvise and create a room for use as Court 2. However, the room was too small to accommodate a large number of people. So it could only accommodate the Magistrate, a court clerk, a prosecutor and the accused persons. There was no space for any other person who was interested in following the proceedings.
“Since we were now two Magistrates, we had to improvise a small room and use it as a court and we named it, Court two,” explained Hon Diana Mochache, the outgoing, Shanzu Law Courts head of station.
She adds: “In the same area, there was a small room which served as a typing pool and was also used as a criminal registry, and a kitchen where tea was made.”
She says the room accommodated 23 staff members who were forced to work in shifts due to the limited space. As a result of the congestion, most files could not be traced from the typing pool.
In the court compound, there was a container which served as the office for staff from the Directorate of Public Prosecution. It neither had furniture nor electricity connectivity.
“With the help of the Court Users Committee, we sourced for funds which assisted us in buying furniture for the container, and it was also connected with electricity for efficiency,” Hon Mochache said.
The container had to be converted into a criminal registry, to ease congestion at the typing pool, which at the same time, served as a criminal registry.
The head of station also approached the CUC, which procured building materials to construct a new court building at Shanzu Law Courts. Under the rehabilitation program, she got prisoners from the Shimo la Tewa prison where the court is located, who worked provided masonry services while offenders on Community Service, provided labor.
Hon Mochache also spearheaded the construction of the children waiting area, where children could sit as they wait for their matters to be heard.
The head of station wrote to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to assist the court to construct an archive store for the court documents. The UNODC donated a 20 feet container and with the help of the young people from the borstal institution, under the rehabilitation program, shelves were constructed and electricity connected to the container. Additionally, the organization donated another 40-feet container which was converted into an exhibits store.
Under the rehabilitation program of custodial and non-custodial offenders, the head of station commenced construction of the administration block which on completion housed a new courtroom as well as a Chamber. The block catered for the Criminal Registry, Customer Care, a fully furnished kitchen, two washrooms and the Accounts Office.
The construction work was done by long serving prisoners from the Shimo la Tewa Prison, offenders on community and the borstal boys who worked as masons, electricians and carpenters. The UNODC also donated furniture to the court for the Registry and Chambers.
Hon Mochache also approached the Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB), Mtwapa branch, to consider establishing a banking agent in the court premises. This was to ensure people do not seek banking services which are located as far as Mtwapa town to make deposits, since the court does not receive cash.
She also requested the Commissioner of Prisons to allocate the Judiciary more land for the construction of a new court at the station that would handle Terrorism matters.
Funded by the Counter Terrorism Bureau from the United States, Ksh40 million was approved for the construction of a CT court facility (Counter Terrorism court). The new Counter Terrorism court, is expected to have a modern court with teleconferencing facilities, a fire proof exhibits store and safe for sensitive exhibits, an advocates and clients waiting room and a modern witness protection box for vulnerable witnesses.
Rehabilitation of offenders
Since drugs had found their way into the prison and young vulnerable offenders are re-introduced to drugs and even getting radicalized by the serious offenders like terrorists and robbers, the head of station came up with a rehabilitation program at Shimo la Tewa prison that allow inmates to also undergo drug treatment, in remand and prison.
“To stop the vicious cycle, I came up with a rehabilitation program in prison where offenders were not only being punished by law, but also undergo drug treatment, whether in remand or in prison,” she explains.
The offenders are compelled to take the treatment as part of the punishment, with the help of a counsellor who offers psycho-social support to those in prison.
She adds: “As a result of the initiative, UNODC commenced construction of a drug rehabilitation clinic in the prison instead of the inmates having to go to Kisauni Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) clinic, which is far away from the prison facility.”
The clinic is a drug treatment center for dispensing methadone.
Further, the UNODC under the Global Maritime Crime Programme aims to develop and respond to the threat posed by maritime crime and other forms of organized crime.
Other support from the organization includes the donation of building materials for the construction of a perimeter wall at the Shanzu Law Courts to boost security. The UNODC also introduced a case-tracking system which was initiated in 2015 under her leadership. The tracking system has made it easier to track court files and manage live cases among magistrates. Further, the system has minimized loss of physical files, so that, in case a file goes missing, the soft copy can be retrieved from the system.
The case-tracking system has assisted in generating the cause-lists (schedule of listed matters) for the court by capturing all the active files. Further, it has assists in retrieving historical records of files that have been destroyed which can be traced in the computer as soft copies.
It has made tracking of cases effective and efficient while preserving data where all facts are consolidated in the soft copy. It also makes it impossible to alter facts in the files.
Shanzu law courts is among stations that have pioneered ‘plea bargain’ as way of easing congestion in prisons, fast-tracking cases, reducing backlog and promoting reconciliation.
Hon Mochache says she embraced the concept and started educating litigants about the benefits of negotiated pleas as opposed to a plea of guilty.
“The concept has been well received by low level offenders since they get a chance to benefit from non custodial sentences, while the offenders who are addicted to drugs benefit from rehabilitation.” She said.
The new MAT clinic being constructed inside the Shimo la Tewa Maximum Prison