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Kenya's first county plan to mainstream customary justice

16 May 2022, Nakuru - UNODC has welcomed the launch of Kenya’s first County Action Plan for Alternative Justice Systems (AJS) calling it a milestone in expanding access to justice and with potential to reduce case backlog in courts. 

Civil and criminal matters will be handled through the AJS County Action Plan and Model for Nakuru County and involve different mechanisms and diverse stakeholders, such as unaffiliated groups resolving disputes on their own, elders, clergy, civil society organisations and government justice institutions.   

The launch was presided over by Kenya's Chief Justice, Hon. Martha Koome, accompanied by the Deputy Chief Justice, Hon. Philomena Mwilu; Governor of Nakuru Hon. Lee Kinyanjui; Chair of the Judiciary’s National Steering Committee on AJS Policy Implementation (NaSCI-AJS), Hon. Justice Joel Ngugi; and the Head of the Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Pillar for UNODC in Eastern Africa, Ms Charity Kagwi-Ndungu. 

Alongside the European Union, UNODC has provided technical and logistical support to the Judiciary since 2019 to assist with developing and now operationalizing the country’s cornerstone AJS policy. 

“The 16th of May 2022 will remain a memorable day for the justice seekers within Nakuru County and the entire country as we witness the launch of important structures which give the opportunity for the citizens of Nakuru to exercise their agency in choosing the forum for seeking justice,” Justice (Prof.) Ngugi said. “AJS is encouraging resolution of disputes in an amicable manner to foster good human and interpersonal relations and for the communities to live as a united nation.” 

“I wish to thank UNODC for walking with us throughout the process of developing this County Action Plan,” he added. 

In upholding international standards and norms, UNODC has taken great interest in the AJS policy and its application at the county level, including the protection of the most vulnerable and respect for human rights. 

“The Steering Committee is to be applauded for their inclusive and tailored approach. Knowing that this Action Plan will serve as a pilot for other counties, let me laud the specific objective in the Nakuru Action Plan of protecting the rights and voices of the vulnerable and marginalized groups through AJS practices,” Ms Kagwi-Ndungu, said. 

“Looking at all of its objectives and 10 binding principles, it’s clear this Action Plan sets the tone for positive engagement by the many layers of stakeholders who will be involved, using a home-grown model. 

“We look forward to continuing our support for the full adoption of the AJS policy at the national and county levels in pursuit of peaceful communities and justice for all,” she stated during the launch. 

UNODC’s support for the NaSCI-AJS and its three sub-committees is through the Programme for Legal Empowerment and Aid Delivery in Kenya (PLEAD), a partnership funded by the European Union. 

One specific PLEAD target is to achieve a 50 per cent reduction in the backlog of criminal cases. By channeling a significant number of disputes for determination outside the courts, AJS mechanisms help courts avoid being overwhelmed with disputes that could be resolved elsewhere. 

The launch was attended by over 200 people and included the opening of an ‘AJS suite’ at the Nakuru Law Courts which features AJS posters illustrated by renowned Kenyan artist Paul Kelemba and produced by NaSCI-AJS in conjunction with UNODC. The suite is now available to those involved in AJS mechanisms for meetings and use as their registry.   

Among the benefits of AJS, such processes tend to be quicker, more cost effective and flexible. The next two AJS County Actions Plans are due to be finalized for Kisumu and Uasin Gishu counties. 

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