Covid-19: Courts and Domestic Violence Cases in Kenya
By Ann Shikongigi Advocate of the High Court of Kenya The Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender Affairs has reported a 42 per cent increase in the number of domestic violence cases in Kenyan homes. This increase is partly due to the curfew and partial lockdowns imposed as part of measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Being locked at home has made it a complete nightmare for victims to escape from abusers. Measures taken to contain the rise in domestic violence cases during the current pandemic are grossly insufficient and portray the government’s apathy towards victims. Victims continue to suffer pain and suffering, actual bodily harm, emotional pain and agony, exposure to sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS, early and unwanted pregnancies, unsafe and illegal abortions, stigma and trauma. How long can the victims wait for justice to be served? There is an urgent need to address the issue of domestic violence as a priority. Prioritization has become a challenge because Kenyan courts have scaled down their operations, resulting in limited access to a few courts in the intervening period. The National Council on Administration of Justice reported that “in some cases, the perpetrators are close relatives, guardians and/or persons living with the victims, and that the courts, will consider giving directions on early hearing dates on such matters.” These indeed, are unprecedented times, but the attempts at digitization of court operations has been frustrated and delayed for years, and that clearly does not work in the best interest of the people. The Kenyan justice system needs to align itself with the demands and realities of the contemporary world to enable easy and speedy access to justice especially for victims of domestic violence. According to Martin M. Mbui, the benefits of digitization of the courts includes improved cost effectiveness of judicial services because virtual appearances will reduce the frequency and costs of transporting litigants and witnesses. It will also result in improved access to justice, as technology reduces two significant barriers to accessing justice, the cost of litigation, and the geographical distance between litigants and court stations. Reduced operational costs translate into a reduction in the overall cost of litigation, which then means that more cases are reported, and the perpetrators brought to justice more quickly. A number of the victims who are most likely going through economic hardships, due to closure of businesses and loss of jobs, tend to believe that litigation is an expensive and time-consuming affair hence failing to report the cases. Justice delayed, is justice denied, and digitization could ensure that there is faster and expeditious disposal of cases. The hearing of cases will be less predisposed to the common causes of adjournment, and the unavailability of litigants and witnesses. There are obvious concerns from all members involved in the issue of digitization of judicial proceedings. Primary concerns are insufficient technologies, and poor infrastructure in court stations especially in courts outside the capital city. Additionally, there is the problem of unstable internet connectivity across the court stations in the country, and access to technology by the victims of domestic violence. Other complaints include cases of inefficiency of the e-filling system and delays in getting responses from the judicial officers. There is hope, albeit temporary, for the victims of domestic. The president of the Law Society of Kenya ( LSK) in a webinar session stated that, the LSK and FIDA-Kenya, are now working hand in hand to help victims of sexual and domestic violence, in this Covid-19 period. There is a form that is available to help with separation of the victims from their abusers, considering the limitation of abusers to be put away in police cells and remand due to the issue of social distancing. This is a relief, to those victims who cannot afford legal services, because, they are the target group of FIDA-Kenya. Organizations and the general public will have to work with the police, to establish serious cases that require victims to be separated from their abusers. The media also needs to come in and help the department of justice, on sensitization of issues of domestic violence and the available helpline numbers that people can use to report these cases. Ann Shikongigi is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya.She is a human rights champion (women and children).