Egerton University is scheduled to hold its Third National Legal Aid Conference aimed at exploring ways of enhancing the role of the judiciary in African states as a pillar of democracy for sustainable peace and development.
The conference is expected to identify and document the best practices in managing electoral processes, define the role of the civil society organizations in promoting access to justice in the democratic space and also outline legal obligations of political parties in the electoral process.
The University Dean of Faculty of Law Dr Ruth Aura indicated that the event dubbed “Access to Justice During Electioneering Period in Africa in the 21st Century,” would be held virtually from November 14th to November 19th this year.
She added that the event will bring on board more than 1,000 lawyers, law students, policy makers and academicians in the country and from several African states.
The conference is organized by the University’s Faculty of Law Legal Aid Project (FOLLAP) with support from the European Union (EU) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) under the Amkeni Wakenya programme.
According to Aura, the National Legal Aid Conference sponsored by FOLLAP, European Union, and UNDP will provide an opportunity for stakeholders to share experiences and mechanisms of addressing the issue of access to justice for the poor and marginalized during the election period in different contexts.
The conference, she stated, will also look into innovative strategies aimed at promoting citizens’ participation in the electoral processes, address data protection challenges in the electoral process in addition to addressing issues such as the right to vote and standards for right holders and duty bearers.
The participants are expected to come up with approaches on how to motivate lawyers offering free legal services for the poor and marginalized during the election period as the Constitution emphasizes access to justice which is hindered by costs.
Aura stated that access to quality legal representation was not a privilege reserved for the rich and the mighty but a right enshrined in the Constitution as well as international treaties ratified by Kenya, to be enjoyed by everybody.
She said the conference will also tackle trends in electoral processes in Africa in the 21st Century, democracy in the digital age and Sexual Gender Based Violence in the context of electoral process.
The Dean observed that despite enactment of legislation and development of various policies, access to justice remains elusive for many Kenyans particularly the poor, vulnerable and marginalized.
“First-rate legal representation in Kenya, as it is in other parts of the world, is way beyond the reach of many and occasionally unattainable among the vulnerable,” said Aura.
Under the Amkeni Wakenya programme, more than 40 chiefs from Nakuru West, Subukia, Naivasha, Molo, Bahati and Rongai Sub-Counties have been equipped with legal aid training.
Aura said the main objective of training the administrators was to empower them with skills to handle human rights cases, gender-based violence, and resolve other family problems amicably within their jurisdictions.
The Dean observed that once chiefs acquired legal aid knowledge they would help bridge the justice gap at grassroots and help poor residents to access justice.
Through the Amkeni Wakenya programme, the Faculty of Law Legal Aid Project has also trained People living with HIV and Aids, women, youth and persons living with disabilities on the Constitution, Matrimonial Property Rights, Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage, Women and Property Ownership.
In 2017, the government launched the National Action Plan on Legal Aid 2017-2022 which provides guidelines for the provision of accessible legal aid in Kenya.
The National Action Plan on Legal Aid was developed through consultations by the National Legal Aid Service which works under the Attorney General’s office.
Previously, provision of legal aid in the country did not have any clear institutional and coordination framework in which to operate. The action plan was meant to facilitate the full implementation of the National Legal Aid and Awareness Policy, 2015, as well as the Legal Aid Act 2016 in line with the Kenyan Constitution, 2010.
The Constitution obligated the State to ensure access of justice to all persons and to protect the rights of every accused person by ensuring they have a fair trial and an advocate is assigned to them at the expense of the republic.
By Esther Mwangi and Rachael Wangari