The United Nation Development Program (UNDP) and partners are keen on strengthening the Alternative Justice System in a bid to expand access to justice among the poor, in the face of Covid-19 pandemic in the Counties.
UNDP’s Kenya Resident Representative Walid Badawi says through the Program for Legal empowerment and Aid Delivery Kenya (PLEAD), established legal Aid Centers will enable the poor access free digital court proceedings and legal services for timely justice.
Speaking in Nakuru at the launch of the Nakuru Legal Aid Center at the County Commissioner`s office, Badawi said the centers are in conformity to the United Nations aspiration for equitable access to Justice for peaceful and cohesive societies. He said the program is being piloted in 12 counties.
He said through the arrangement with the Judiciary, 26 Community Based Organizations across the Country are already receiving financial and technical support from UNDP to be able to enhance access to legal services among the poor.
Badawi observed that in the face of disruption of incomes and economic hardships among families due to coronavirus pandemic, disputes have spiked and this has made access to legal services among the needy increasingly difficult.
He said at the establishments, beneficiaries have access to free virtual court proceedings, a pro bono lawyer and trained paralegal officers for efficient justice which he says is a cornerstone for strong and cohesive societies.
The UNDP Resident representative said a total of nine Alternative Dispute Resolution ( ADR) centers have been established; four in Lamu County, a similar number in Nairobi and one in Mombasa County to help ease the burden of case backlog in conventional courts within the regions.
The Chairman to the Steering Committee on Alternative Justice Systems (AJS) who is also a High Court Judge Prof. Joel Ngugi termed the initiative as innovative saying the legal aid centres will help to reduce case backlog in courts which he describes as an impediment in the judiciary`s quest to ensure timely justice to all citizens.
Ngugi commended the program saying it will enable members of society who are unable to raise legal fees to pursue justice to access justice efficiently and on time as is enshrined in the law.
Nakuru East Deputy County Commissioner Eric Wanyonyi who represented Nakuru County Commissioner Erastus Mbui at the event said the Nakuru center is invaluable in settling civil disputes that can be settled amicably by parties without going through a protracted court process.
The Executive Director to the Center for Enhancing Democracy and Good Governance (CEDGG) Cornelius Oduor said the newly commissioned Nakuru Legal Aid Center has trained chiefs, community elders and police officers on gender responsive strategies, the best approaches to human rights and legal aid practices.
Oduor was optimistic that the knowledge will help the trained paralegal officers provide timely assistance to beneficiaries of the center.
He said 404 disputes have been reported to the center in recent months and 17 of them have been successfully resolved adding most disputes reported cases involve Gender Based Violence and Child support.
By Jane Ngugi and Dennis Rasto