Small claims court to change scope of justice delivery

In Summary

•Small Claims Courts are unique; procedures are deliberately informal, simple and straightforward.

•This flexibility is demonstrated by the fact that the courts are not wholly guided by rules of evidence. 

The Judiciary.
The Judiciary.
Image: FILE

The Judiciary is committed to enhance capacity of the newly launched Small Claims Courts by posting additional adjudicators. Speaking during a visit to the courts that are located at the Nairobi Commercial Courts, Chief Justice Martha Koome said there was need to have a different set of adjudicators to hear personal injury claims while those of a commercial nature are handled by others. The Chief Justice said that this will also enhance the court’s efficiency and output as it dispenses justice. “This plan is aimed at enhancing efficiency of justice delivery at the court which has already received over nine hundred cases since its establishment two months ago with fifty percent of cases being personal injury claims,” said the Chief Justice.

The Small Claims Court is a subordinate institution in the structure of the court system in Kenya under Article 169 (1) of the Constitution and established under Section 4 of the Small Claims Court Act, 2016 to determine civil claims with a monetary value limited to Ksh1 million. It is expected to be a crucial cog in the plans to enhance access to and expeditious delivery of justice. The court is expected to further reduce the backlog in the mainstream courts given the strict timelines for hearing and determination of cases filed with the court which has been fixed at sixty days. More than 50% of the civil matters filed at Milimani Commercial Courts, one of the busiest in the country, fall within the pecuniary jurisdiction of the Small Claims Courts.

Small Claims Courts are unique; procedures are deliberately informal, simple and straightforward. This flexibility is demonstrated by the fact that the courts are not wholly guided by rules of evidence. They may admit as evidence material they consider credible or trustworthy, even where the same is not admissible in any other court under the law of evidence. Parties can also proceed entirely on the basis of documents presented to the court without having to make oral representations. Additionally, the courts can allow the use of indigenous 13 languages by the parties during the proceedings, as opposed to only English and Kiswahili as is the case in other courts.

For enhanced efficiency, adjournments are highly discouraged and limited to three, to be allowed only in exceptional circumstances. Section 24 (1) of the Small Claims Court Act further provides that so far as it is practicable, matters filed in the court are to be heard on a day to day and judgment delivered on the same day, or, within three days of completion of hearings. The court also embraces Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms which are effective in producing better settlements and increase litigants’ satisfaction with the outcomes.

 The courts have jurisdiction to determine any civil claim relating to a contract for sale and supply of goods or services; a contract relating to money held and received; liability in tort in respect of loss or damage caused to any property or for the delivery or recovery of movable property; compensation for personal injuries; and set-off and counterclaim under any contract. In this regard, the court will go a long way in promoting the ease of doing business in the country given that a lot of resources are tied up in the various cases pending in the ordinary court system, and faster determination of matters will free up those resources. It will further aid in enhancing public confidence in the Judiciary and increase access to justice for individuals and businesses.

Since the operationalization of Small Claims Court Milimani, a total of 909 new cases have been filed and 212 cases heard and determined. The local jurisdiction of the court is limited to Nairobi but the Judiciary will progressively ensure that the courts are accessible in every sub-county and eventually in other decentralized units of judicial service delivery.

Mueni is a Public Communication Officer at the Judiciary