Crowded in a small room that was built as a cell, the magistrate scribbles on his pad. The suspect, who is alleged to have defiled a 10-year old girl, sits pensively barely two metres away.
He listens and as a 15-year jail sentence is pronounced, his gaze turns menacing. He fidgets on the bench and makes faces as though he wants to pounce on the magistrate. Police quickly whisk him into the holding cells, a few metres away.
This is the situation at Meru Law Courts, where magistrates, prosecutors, lawyers, suspects, journalists and residents share a cell that was converted into a courtroom due to lack of space.
“Due to lack of proper security there have been three attempted escapes by suspects in the past one year. Three succeeded and they are yet to be re-arrested,” said a court officer.
With four judges and seven magistrates, there are only six courtrooms. Deputy registrar Carol Obara operates from a former toilet that was remodelled into an office, store and a courtroom.
“Prosecutors operate from a makeshift office, where the security of sensitive documents they handle cannot be guaranteed. The registries are also in a mess because they are so crowded that files get misplaced. I think what should be done here is to shut down operations because this is a disaster in waiting,” said another court officer.
When visiting judges for various tribunals are scheduled to hold hearings, some cases have to be adjourned, causing delays in their hearing and conclusion, according to the courts administrator Kariuki Njuki.
Mr Njuki, however, said they cannot shut the courts since the move would cripple delivery of justice in the region. “We have to operate with what we have because despite the situation, cases must be filed and heard,” he said.
Speaking on behalf of presiding judge Alfred Mabeya, who is on leave, chief magistrate Hannah Ndung’u said there are plans to build a Sh400 million block, adding that they had already been allocated a plot. “We are waiting for funds to be allocated so that the project can begin,” she said.
The Judiciary acquired a one-and half acre plot for construction of the court block four years ago, but the title deed has not been issued. A visit at the site reveals that the plot has not been secured. But Mr Njuki said they had requested for Sh8 million for construction of a wall to secure the property.
But with the cut on the Judiciary budgetary allocation, the problems at the Meru Law Courts might not be resolved soon. Last month, Chief Justice David Maraga complained that due to the cut, some projects would not be completed.