, NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 26 – Chief Justice David Maraga has urged African courts to play their part in helping respective nations achieve positive development outcomes.
According to Justice Maraga, strong judiciaries acting as the custodian of constitutionalism were critical to Africa’s quest for sustainable development.
In a keynote address he delivered at the 9th Annual African Development Conference at the Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the head of Kenya’s Judiciary said bad laws were impeding development in Africa.
“Badly designed Constitutions, poorly respected constitutions, bad leadership, weak and ineffective institutions have contributed immensely to negative development outcomes in Africa,” he pitched.
“The major causes of Africa’s sad state of affairs are bad governance resulting in injustice as well as disregard for the rule of law; corruption and state capture; and unequal development and distribution of state resources resulting in economic, social and cultural polarization,” Justice Maraga elaborated at the conference themed – Wielding Africa’s Potential for Sustainable Growth – which closed on Saturday.
He highlighted some of the challenges the continent continued to face such as starvation and famine as key problems that the Judiciary must seek to address by ensuring the rule of law is safeguarded and human rights protected.
While making reference to the prevailing situation in South Sudan, Somalia, and Northeast Nigeria where a rampant humanitarian crisis is ensuing, the Chief Justice explained that the full development potential of the continent, natural resources it is endowed with such as oil, minerals, and tourism notwithstanding, cannot be harnessed where the rule of law is threatened.
Justice Maraga noted that it is through the rule of law that human rights are brought to life.
“The rule of law ensures human rights are brought to life as a means of addressing the deprivation, exclusion, and discrimination that lie at the heart of poverty and marginalization,” he pointed out.
With the coming into force of more progressive constitutions as is the case with Kenya’s 2010 Constitution, Justice Maraga said judicial institutions have now like never before, an opportunity to assert their authority on matters rule of law.
“African Courts should be emboldened by the compelling nature and provisions of the current transformative, democratic and developmentalists Constitutions, play their rightful agency role in linking governance with development, and abandon the spectator poise imposed by the restraining nature of the Constitutions ante (prior),” he urged.
“After all, the economy and political stability of every county depends upon a proper system of law and justice,” he said.
The Chief Justice also highlighted in the speech progress made in enhancing delivery of justice in Kenya in the recent past which include boosting the capacity of courts.
Other than increasing the number of High Court stations from 14 to 39 in 38 counties in just under six years, Maraga noted the increase in the number of judges under the same period from about 50 to 160 as among critical strides in improving access to justice in Kenya.
He also said court processes continued to be simplified with an ongoing pilot project of introducing speech-to-text technology in courtrooms as well as electronic filling expected to expedite the hearing of cases in court and hence quick dispensation of justice.
The Judiciary is targeting to have at least a High Court station in each of the 47 counties as well as expand the presence of Magistrate Court to all the 290 constituencies countrywide.
During his stay in Harvard, Justice Maraga presented Harvard Law School’s Vice Dean, Prof William Alford, a copy of the 2016-2017 State the Judiciary and the Administration of Justice Report, which enumerates some of the achievements in the justice sector in Kenya as well as challenges faced.
The backlog of cases is a key challenge identified in the report which at the time of its release in December last year stood at 533,350 cases.
The Judiciary had set out to conclude 66,214 of these pending cases which have been in court for between 5-10 years.