By Treezer Michelle Atieno
Mobile courts are formal courts that conduct proceedings in locations other than their home offices, usually in remote areas. According to UNDP, mobile courts have contributed to the fight against impunity for Sexual Gender Based Violence related crimes and has increased justice and service delivery for SGBV survivors in various African countries. These courts are also very important in solving land and inheritance cases.
According to Human Rights Watch, long distance to courts hinder women from accessing justice on claim to matrimonial property at dissolution of marriage. This is because of the high costs incurred on transport and even accommodation during case hearings in formal or established courts.
Even when women succeed in reporting human rights violations, the cases are often not filed or are withdrawn due to lack of capacity to address the violations and bring justice for the complainant.
The Judiciary is responsible for solving disputes and dispensing justice. However, many Kenyans still don’t have access to judicial institutions. The arid and semi-arid regions for example are most affected. The number of courts in the vast area is considerably small. The areas are mostly served by a few Magistrate Courts.
Geographical distribution of the Magistrate Courts in the arid lands does not correspond with people’s socio-economic and physical situations. Only very few roads have tarmac surfaces and most are only accessible by trucks or four-wheel drive vehicles
Because of this challenge, the Judiciary has adopted mobile courts. The use of mobile courts to overcome the problem of distances is still rare but was taken up as a reform initiative by the judiciary from as early as 2008.
Mobile courts contribute to public outreach by the judiciary and help increase public understanding of the law. The availability of a court at the local level also allows for an additional avenue for community members to choose from on how to solve their conflict.
While these courts promote justice in remote areas, Judicial officers operating mobile courts have expressed concerns on the cost associated with mobile courts among other concerns. Judicial officers travel long distances to get to community members. This is both costly and tiresome. Reaching out to witnesses is also a challenge since most of them may not have mobile phones. Therefore, chiefs are mostly the only point of contact between the courts and witnesses.
Even though mobile courts are expensive to maintain, there should be a way to sustain them. This is because we cannot rely on alternative conflict resolution mechanisms in cases where the suspect should be detained and where witness protection is needed.