Kenya Courts Online and delivery of efficient, reliable, accessible legal services
With the current situation of COVID-19 and social distancing, courts globally have been quick to adapt to new ways of operating online.Significant changes have been made in the way courts are operating and technology is being embraced by by courts with super speeds to deliver justice efficiently and reliably.
Remote Courts Worldwide, a website set up in March 2020, publishes and shares experiences of those working in the justice system of how online court proceedings are being adapted globally.
Kenya courts have certainly not been left behind in this global adaption. ‘Remote’ in Kenya usually refers to areas and locations which are not easily accessible, lacks sanitation, water, electricity and are homes to many underserved Kenyan communities. In a diametrical contrast to the local meaning of the word, ‘Remote’ online courts in Kenya do not fit that definition.
This month Chief Justice of Kenya, David Maraga, announced that Kenya courts delivered 7000 judgements digitally in a short period of time since the first case of COVID-19 was detected in the country and has called the judiciary to step up its efforts to embrace technology.The President of the Kenya Court of Appeal, William Ouko, has issued Practice Notes for conduct of court business during the pandemic.The Kenya National Council on the Administration of Justice has also issued a Press Statement for operations in the justice sector in wake of COVID-19. Nairobi Commercial and Law Courts have devised a workable Court Standard Operating Procedure (CSOP) for filing of the pleadings, payment of court fees and procedures for filing of court proceedings.
It is impressive that in such a short period of time the Kenya judiciary has integrated Mpesa (M for mobile, pesa is Swahili for money), a mobile phone-based money transfer and payment service, for payment and filing of court proceedings online. Mpesa service is global award winning service having received two awards for emerging markets payment Awards in London and has been nominated each year for global awards for mobile money payment service. Under the CSOP, litigants and their lawyers communicate to the courts by email, court fees is assessed by court and payment made by Mpesa. Once the court verifies receiving Mpesa payment (usually within seconds), court proceedings are filed by the relevant court and the litigants can ask for hard copies of proceedings via email. Nairobi courts have issued notice on how court proceedings will be conducted online via various video conferencing facilities. A weekly cause list of the cases is published online with details and full lists of cases country wide.
It remains to be seen whether the Kenya courts will continue to enhance its technologies for online court processes once the pandemic is over. Certainly, affordable internet services will need to be spread across the entire country with reliable broadband speeds for online courts to be accessible and reliable to all citizens. For the poor litigant, appearing in an online court will be much less daunting than the physical experience of grandiose, oak panelled court rooms surrounded by armed guards! Currently all signs are positive that with the help of Mpesa and with Kenya’s reputation as “Silicon Savannah“, time is ripe for Kenya court system to gradually adapt online technology to deliver efficient, reliable, affordable and accessible legal services.
Advocate of the High Court of Kenya.
Solicitor of England and Wales (practicing freelance).
Certified Company Secretary (Kenya).
Corporate Governance Professional (ICSA – UK)