A new study reveals that nearly half of Kenyans seek to resolve their legal disputes outside of court, either through informal means or by not pursuing a claim at all. The reasons are discouraging but unsurprising:
The top reason given for inaction was the belief that acting would not help, a view that was held by a third of the respondents.
The second most frequent rationale was that the other party was more powerful (20 per cent) than the complainant. Three in 10 Kenyans from the lowest income group say they did nothing because the other party was more powerful compared to one in 10 people in the highest income group. The numbers imply that the justice system is not seen as an equalising force by a sizable part of the population and that the experiences of those who sought legal services differed depending on income levels.
The study also found that 2 out of 3 Kenyans believe their court system generally protects the interests of the rich and powerful above all others, and only 1 in 3 felt that they can rely on the courts for fair justice.
Access to justice was hindered in other ways as well. Nearly 1 in 5 Kenyans said that they have no idea how to even initiate a legal claim. And those can file a claim may have to wait an eternity for resolution, since 1 in every 6 cases currently pending in the Kenyan courts is more than ten years old.
These problems are not unique to Kenya, of course. Every court system faces the considerable challenge of providing equal justice in a society that is inherently unequal. But the survey nevertheless brings those challenges into stark relief once more.