, NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 28 – A judge of the Environment and Land Division says the court is overwhelmed with a backlog of land cases as a result of lack of manpower.
Speaking during a forum at the Strathmore University, Lady Justice Pauline Nyamweya said that a majority of pending cases relate to disputes over small plots of land and the 16 judges in that division are finding themselves unable to dispense with the cases in good time.
“About 60 percent of the pending cases in the High Court relate to small plots in Ruiru and Kayole where the value in most cases is less than Sh500,000,” she stated.
“All new cases even if the plot is worth Sh20,000 are now being filed in the High Court and of course this contributes to the backlog.”
She further indicated that the reluctance of the parties to seek alternative dispute resolution measures is contributing to the huge pile-up.
“In Nairobi alone, the Land and Environmental Division of the High Court has the second largest backlog of cases next to the Civil Division,” the judge said.
“Then you would expect that you would have a relatively higher number of Environment and Land courts established so that we can be efficient in the manner we deal with land disputes.”
She encouraged Kenyans to seek alternative dispute resolution mechanisms on land issues before taking the matters to court.
“We are required by the Constitution to encourage alternative dispute resolution and this will also help reduce our backlog,” she said.
She explained one of the hurdles faced is when parties in a dispute take the matter to the National Land Commission (NLC) while at the same time using the court system.
“The only challenge we sometimes face is that when a matter is pending in court especially with regard to a dispute to do with private land, you find that some parties go to the National Land Commission and not disclosing that this matter is already in court,” she said.
She also stressed the need for more High Court judges to be assigned to the Environment and Land division.
“Currently, though, we have 16 Environment and Land court judges and an establishment of about 60 High court judges. What has happened is that exclusive jurisdiction is given to the Environment and Land Courts, the other High Court judges cannot hear and determine the environment and land disputes,” she pointed out.
The Environment and Land Court was established following the passing of the Environment and Land Court Act, 2011, which effectively repealed the Land Disputes Tribunal Act, scrapping the role of district land tribunal teams in favour of the new outfit.
A delay in starting the operations of the court, which has the status of a High Court and a jurisdiction to offer services across all the 47 counties, resulted in a major build-up of land cases that were previously handled by the district land tribunals.