The Judiciary could be in for an extreme makeover if MPs adopt the proposals to improve the administration of justice in the country.
Among the proposals by the National Assembly’s Justice and Legal Affairs Committee is the extension of the period within which presidential election petitions should be heard from the current 14 to 30 days.
The enactment of a law clearly delineating the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court and increased allocation to the Judiciary were also raised.
The committee chaired by Baringo North MP William Cheptumo also wants the Judiciary to propose legislation providing for statutory timelines within which cases should be heard and determined by the courts.
There have been complaints that cases drag in courts hence delaying justice.
The committee also wants the Judiciary to submit to the National Assembly for enactment, a proposal to entrench the Office of the Judiciary Ombudsman into law. On the presidential election petition, the committee observed that the current constitutional time-lime was not enough.
“The Judiciary submits that the timeline for hearing of presidential election petition of 14 days was inadequate and should be increased to 30 days,” the committee’s report reads.
This will require a constitutional amendment and legislative proposals.
In the 2013 presidential election petition against President Uhuru Kenyatta, ODM Raila Odinga, then Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord) presidential candidate, complained that he lost the case because the bulk of his evidence was struck out because it was filed outside the seven-day constitutional timeline.
Currently, the Supreme Court is the last court of appeal, hearing and overturning decisions of the lower courts despite the court headed by Chief Justice David Maraga not meant to be an appellate court for all matters.
“There is a need to review the law to provide clarity as to the matters that can be dealt with by the Supreme Court,” the report says.
The MPs are also pushing for the hiring of more judges and magistrates, an extension of the jurisdiction of magistrates to reduce backlogs as well as the enactment of the tribunal’s bill to address challenges like the unwillingness by ministries to transfer 40 tribunals to the Judiciary.
On backlog of cases, the MPs expressed concern that lack of statutory or policy documents providing timelines within which cases should be heard, and the inadequate number of judges and magistrates were contributory factors.
According to the Judiciary, the number of pending cases rose by four per cent from 533,350 cases in the 2016/17 financial year to 553,187 at the end of the 2017/18 financial year.
They comprised 219, 686 criminal cases and 333,501 civil cases. Most of the pending cases were in magistrates courts (407 631) followed by the High Court (97,327).
“The delayed conclusion of court cases was frustrating litigants and hampered economic growth as it leads to projects stalling, funds being held up without use and discouragement of potential local and foreign investors among other effects,” the report says.
The judiciary needs at least 1,200 magistrates, there are only 500, who are overwhelmed since most cases are filed in magistrates’ courts.