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Key findings
  • A majority (57%) of Kenyans said they trust courts of law “somewhat” or “a lot,” a modest improvement compared to 2016. Trust in the courts was weaker among better-educated and urban Kenyans
  • But almost nine out of 10 Kenyans (86%) said at least “some” judges and magistrates are involved in corruption, including more than one-third (35%) who said “most” or “all” of them are corrupt.
  • More than eight out of 10 respondents (82%) said the president must always obey the laws and the courts, even if he thinks they are wrong. Three-fourths (74%) said that in practice, the president “rarely” or “never” ignores the laws and courts to do as he pleases.
  • Among the 6% of citizens who said they had contact with the courts during the two years preceding the survey, two-thirds (65%) complained of long delays in resolving their cases, while others said they could not obtain legal counsel (57%) or were unable to pay the fees (47%).
  • Among Kenyans who had justice-related problems during the previous two years, most said they resolved their conflicts with the help of family or friends (33%), traditional leaders or community support (26%), or informal settlements among the parties involved (24%). Only 3% resolved their conflicts in formal courts or tribunals.
  • Almost nine out of 10 respondents (86%) who had justice-related problems said they were “fairly satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the outcomes of the various avenues they used to seek justice.

Kenya’s Constitution calls for a justice system that is accessible, affordable, and comprehensible to ordinary people and that dispenses justice fairly, speedily, and without discrimination, fear, or favour. The Constitution lays down principles to guide the administration of justice, including equality before the law, efficiency in the delivery of justice, mainstreaming of alternative justice systems, and the importance of substantive justice regardless of legal procedures and technicalities (Republic of Kenya, 2010).

However, many Kenyans are unable to enjoy their constitutional right of access to justice, whether because of financial constraints, the complexity of the law, a lack of legal counsel, long delays, or other reasons (Logan, 2017). Kenya consistently ranks low in terms of the rule of law and judicial integrity. The World Justice Project’s (2020) Rule of Law Index rates Kenya 102nd out of 128 countries globally.

A large backlog of cases remains a problem, although notable progress has been made: Between January 2017 and December 2018, the backlog was reduced from 170,186 to 102,773 cases pending for more than five years. This 40% reduction was made possible through support provided to alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms aimed at easing the burden on the courts (Republic of Kenya, 2019).

To improve efficiency and enhance access to justice, the Kenya judiciary also digitalized court files and court proceedings, automated registries, and implemented electronic filing of cases (e-filing), automated fee assessment, e-payments, and other e-services (International Law Development Organization, 2017).

But findings from the most recent Afrobarometer survey in Kenya suggest that challenges remain. Although a majority of Kenyans trust the courts, more than one-third think that most or all judges and magistrates are involved in corruption – about half the perceived corruption level for the police, but twice the rate for traditional and religious leaders. A majority of citizens who interacted with the courts reported problems such as costs they couldn’t afford and judges who wouldn’t listen.

Most Kenyans with justice-related problems turn to family and friends, traditional leaders, or other resources outside the formal court system, and they are generally satisfied with the outcome.

Simon Templer Kodiaga

Simon is the communications for East Africa at Afrobarometer

Paul Kamau

Paul Kamau is an Associate Research Professor at the Institute for Development Studies (IDS), University of Nairobi, Kenya.