People in prison are some of the most vulnerable in terms of access to justice; as part of Kituo’s Advocacy, Governance and Community Partnership Program’s goal of indigent and marginalized persons in Kenya having access to justice through legal aid and empowerment Kituo visited the Meru G.K. Prison for a fact finding mission.
On the 10th and 11th February, 2016 AGCP’s program officer Nasibo Abagaro visited the Meru GK Prison for consultative meetings with stakeholders to discuss court related challenges inmates face in accessing justice.
Some of the stakeholders we met included the Officer in Charge, Human rights officer, Welfare officer, Documentation officer, Duty officer, Court officer, prisoners as well as those in remand .
Meru G.K. Prison has 1250 inmates in total, of which 900 are in remand and 350 convicted. According to a fact finding mission, some inmates have been in remand for 8 years still waiting for a decision from the Courts. An example is a Mr. Stanley Gichunge who was charged with murder and has remained in remand for 8 years.
According to findings, majority of remandees are accused of petty offences and are 510 in number, followed by 239 murder cases and 81 robberies with violence. Most of those that have been convicted had been charged with sexual offences.
The following are some of the court related challenges faced by Meru G.K. Prison in accessing justice;
- Appeals delayed – According to the prison warders, appeals are delayed leading to more remandees in the prison. They noted that cases are many and files pile waiting hearing hence the delay.
- Appeal fees are a challenge to many – Another challenge faced by the inmates is that most of them cannot even afford appeal fees which makes them stay in prison longer than usual.
- Lost files – According to the warders, cases of lost files is common in Meru. This leads to most cases not being heard hence a challenge to accessing justice.
- Most inmates are ignorant of their rights – They also noted that most inmates are ignorant when it comes to their rights. Most of them plead guilty even for offences they would be not guilty of not knowing they could defend themselves and their entitlement to a fair hearing.
- Witnesses’ not appearing in court – Witness not appearing in court is another big challenge in the Meru Law court. This results to matters being adjourned and the more adjournments, the further the delays thus hindering access to justice.
- No advocates trained as mediators – There are no advocates trained as mediators hence petty offences still proceed to court instead of applying alternative dispute resolution. According to the warders, if an advocate has been trained on mediation, not all petty cases will end up in court. This will then reduce the number of inmates and justice accessed earlier without courts intervention.
- Limitations in access to information – most inmates expressed challenges in access to information after arrest. They complained that they are arrested even without explanations and when at the police station, they are charged with crimes they are not even fully aware of.
- Mentions delays – according to them, most dates of mention in courts are delayed and this becomes a barrier in accessing justice.
- State counsels not appearing before court – most state counsels are unwilling to represent clients and some don’t even appear in court leaving them stranded.
- Longer period in remand – some inmates in remand complained of staying for many years in remand. Some explained that they have been in remand for up to 8 years and even more. Some of them find themselves there as a result of lost files and need external intervention in order for them to access justice.
- Missing witness – Witness not appearing in court is another big challenge with the inmates. This result to matters being adjourned and the more adjournments, the longer the stay in prison. These delays hinder access to justice.
Kituo Cha Sheria.