• In the last few years, the state of the country's criminal justice has come to the fore with the rise of crime and violent extremism in many urban areas such as Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu.
• Criminal activities blamed on armed groups and extrajudicial killings by the police have been on the rise, leading to members of the public calling for action to tame the situation.
Article 159 (2) (a) of the Constitution provides that “justice shall be done to all, irrespective of status."
Article 48 further provides:“The State shall ensure access to justice for all persons and, if any fee is required, it shall be reasonable and shall not impede access to justice.”
These constitutional provisions require that all persons be guaranteed equality and fairness before the law regardless of their social, economic or political status.
In the last few years, the state of the country's criminal justice system has come to the fore with the rise of crime and violent extremism in many urban areas such as Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu.
Criminal activities blamed on armed groups and extrajudicial killings by the police have been on the rise, leading to members of the public calling for action to tame the situation.
Coupled with the ever-present threat of terrorism and violent extremism in different parts of Kenya, the state of security has come under much attention from different actors.
In addressing justice matters, criminal justice actors, including the police, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Judiciary, the Director of Criminal Investigations and human rights groups have time and again been on the receiving end.
The public has been pointing fingers at these institutions for not following up to ensure justice is served. Conversely, criminal justice actors have also been blaming each other for the stalemate in the sector.
Police blame courts for releasing suspects. Courts blame the ODPP for not presenting watertight cases. The ODPP blames the DCI for not doing proper investigations, human rights groups blame the police for the killings, while the police blame activists for what they consider to be siding with criminals and law breakers.
Access to justice in the context of the Constitution is not just a matter of accessing institutions to enforce rights or resolve disputes. It is also about having the means to improve ‘everyday justice’ and the justice quality of the people’s social, civic and economic relations.
This means giving people choices and providing the appropriate forum for each dispute and also facilitating a culture where fewer disputes need to be resolved. Justice should be dispensed as quickly and simply as possible — whether that is criminal or civil. Access to justice is about facilitating a culture in which fewer disputes need to be resolved.
For years now, civil society organisations, including Haki Africa, Amnesty Internationaland the Kenya Human Rights Commission, have been working with local communities to enhance access to justice.
During this period, it has been deduced that access to justice and human rights plays a big role in influencing people’s perception about security matters. In the face of injustice and human rights violations, individuals and communities at risk of crime and violent extremism distance themselves from state institutions such as the police and this widens the gap between them and promotes mistrust.
Such a situation contributes to a feeling of alienation and becomes a push factor to crime and violent extremism.
In making justice accessible, the pre-trial period — from the point of arrest to when an individual is first presented in court — is critical in shaping people’s perception of justice within the security sector.
In Kenya, this period is marred by lack of clarity about what is expected and more often than not, human rights abuses are rampant therein. Such a scenario contributes to the narrative of injustice meted out on victims, their families and communities, which then feeds directly into criminal and violent extremism recruiters’ ideologies.
To address the perception of injustice on security-related issues among individuals and communities at risk, it becomes paramount to build trust between security authorities and communities as well as enhance access to justice.
By so doing, individuals and communities at risk will be disabused of a major push factor that is used by criminals and extremists to recruit into their ranks. When communities believe their issues are addressed and have faith in the justice system, we will have eliminated a major contributor to crime and radicalisation.