Climate Change mitigation talks and re-possession of public land from unscrupulous individuals dominated celebrations to mark a decade since the inception of the Environment and Lands court (ELC) in Nyeri.
The celebrations were marked by a tree planting exercise at the Nyeri High court where the Environment and Land Court judges from Nanyuki, Nyeri and Nyahururu led their counterparts in the judiciary in planting trees at the court premises.
Invited guests who included representatives from the Kenya Forest Service, the Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Police Service, Law Society of Kenya, EACC and the Business Registration Services called for collaboration between state agencies in the fight against environment and land crimes.
They noted that the most common land crimes in the country was grabbing of public land by private individuals. They also said that it was worrying that government officials charged with the responsibility of safeguarding public property were at the forefront of the land grabbing scandals and pledged to support the court to restore the land to the rightful institutions.
“The celebrations come at a good time when everyone is talking about climate change. There will come a time when the government and its agencies will have to make tough decisions like reclaiming government land, forests, wetlands and riparian land which have been grabbed. We will also need to have conversations about how those who are supposed to be protecting these crucial parcels of land are the same ones who have grabbed them,” said Laikipia County Attorney, Alexander Muchemi.
The Kenya Forest Service Central Region commandant, Patrick Githinji noted that Laikipia County had the highest cases of illegal forest encroachment and called on the land court to give stiffer penalties to culprits. He said that the meager penalties charged on perpetrators of forest crimes were only fueling them to become repeat offenders.
“Most of the forest crimes are perceived as petty crimes where those found culpable are fined for as little as Sh 2,000.When these perpetrators are released they come back to the forest to commit even bigger crimes so we appeal for a revision of the penalties by the judiciary so that they are discouraged from invading the forests,” he said.
Cumulatively, about 1,180 environment and land related cases have been registered in the Nanyuki, Nyeri and Nyahururu ELC courts. Nyeri high court presiding Judge, Justice Florence Muchemi, while enumerating some of the successes of the lands court in Nyeri, said the establishment of the special court had expedited the dispensation of justice for land-related matters.
“The establishment of this court was a turn-around for environment and land justice. Anytime a court is dealing with a matter of one subject, they tend to do it better as we now have expeditious disposal of land matters,” said Justice Muchemi.
The main event to celebrate the court’s 10 years anniversary is slated to take place between November 28 and December 2 at the Pwani University in Kilifi County and it will be presided over by the Chief Justice, Martha Koome.
Justice James Olalo of the Nyeri ELC court said that they will be using the platform to sensitize the public about functions of the court and to also gather views on emerging issues relating to land and environment cases. He said that in support of Climate Change mitigation efforts, the Nanyuki, Nyeri and Nyahururu ELC had set a target of planting 10,000 trees before the end of this year.
“When it comes to the environment, it is not just the ELC to ensure that we have a clean and healthy environment, it is the business of everyone, both state and none-state actors, to ensure we have a safe, clean and secure environment,” said the judge.
By Wangari Mwangi and Rodah Ndirangu