Just between April 2021 and September 2022 the Small Claims Court had resolved matters worth two billion shillings (BD JANUARY 04 2023).

That by itself is a huge statement on the importance of fast dispute resolution in unlocking the economy. The Small Claims Court -SCC, represents a very small fraction of the cases pending in the corridors of justice which if resolved would free capital and litigants to engage in positive economic development.

SCC falls under the Commercial division of the High Court and it can only hear disputes of one million shillings and below. The High Court handles more complex disputes and of higher amounts. It cannot be over emphasized that if there was speedy hearing and determination of matters the judiciary would give a boost to the economy.

Looking over at other divisions of our courts, slow resolution of disputes has locked up billions both in cash and in kind away from the economy. Take for example the Family Division. The slow resolution of succession disputes has locked up meaningful use of land in the country. It is not strange to come across succession disputes running over thirty years.


CHALLENGES
The Judiciary is faced with numerous challenges some of their own making and others which are mainly external.

Internal Challenges
1. Inefficiency and Corruption
The buck of fighting corruption, disappearance of files, aiding of poor litigants, slow service to the public stops at the Chief Justice's door. It is the CJ, as the President of the Courts, who should come up with rules to tame rogue judicial staff. It is not strange going to a registry and finding no staff to serve. You will see them seated at their desks unbothered. Until one shouts like a mad man for several minutes chances of being served are minimal. The CJ must also act on the 'go-slow' which sets in from 12pm and from 4pm.

2. Pauper-Help
The CJ ought to make it easier for poor unrepresented litigants access justice. How will this be done?
Every court should assign a member of staff for 'Pauper-Help'. The duty of this member of staff will be explaining court procedures to members of the public who might not afford an advocate. Majority of these poor litigants could be sitting on land worth billions which is left under utilized.

3. Haki Mashinani
I cannot fail to appreciate the legal clinics held at Milimani Law Courts every now and then. However, there is room for improvement. The Judiciary together with the Law Society of Kenya should borrow from the Equity Bank model of going to where the customer is instead of waiting for the customer in their corporate district offices. Legal clinics should now go to local centres like schools, churches, markets, etc. "Haki Mashinani" is long overdue. It will pay taking the river to the cow because the cow is not aware that the river exists. The cow will be nourished with vital legal solutions which in turn will give the much needed milk to the economy.

4. Response to Complains
The CJ should ensure that complaint avenues are clearly displayed in all courts and the complaints desks, phones and emails fully manned.

5. Speedy hearing
The CJ should ensure that matters are heard and determined without undue delays. This cannot be over emphasized.

External Challenges
Funding has been cited as the major external challenge by the Judiciary. This is easy to explain and it seems to exonerate the Judiciary from the responsibility of protecting and generating revenue as one arm of the government. The executive is left to carry the burden and the blame.

The Judiciary has a responsibility and indirect role in national revenue generation. When the wheels of justice slow down or grind to a halt, the economy takes a beating because litigants waste valuable time in courts and also the cost of litigation escalates.

A recent incident is a very good example. A litigant drove from Eldoret for a hearing in a court in Kiambu county. Unfortunately, the other party's counsel appeared in court unprepared to proceed,which was not the first time. The court instead of awarding the cost of fuel and the wasted day, it awarded ksh 1000 only as the cost of public transport from Eldoret to the court.

The Judiciary must address its inefficiencies and unnecessary delays because they create a chain of inefficiencies in the economy. It is not by accident that the Judiciary is an arm of the government. That elevated status comes with responsibility. The funding which the Judiciary depends on, is generated by those it serves and those who keep off courts due to the inefficiencies they hear about the Judiciary.

The Judiciary should not be asking for funding with the right hand while using the left to sustain oppressive tendencies by its staff and some litigants to stifle economic activities, from which revenue to fund it comes from.

Conclusion
In conclusion despite the challenges cited above, I cannot fail to give credit where it is due. The Judiciary has adopted a positive attitude towards criticism and lends an ear to both internal and external service-improvement suggestions. One such suggestion was the creation of the Small Claims Court which has proven to be a game-changer in unlocking billions held in disputes. Hail the courts!




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