Kituo and the legal empowerment journey in Kenya: Staying the course…

Access to JusticeJuly 29, 20190 CommentsKituo Cha Sheria

Kituo and the legal empowerment journey in Kenya: Staying the course…

Kenya enacted the Legal Aid Act in 2016. The aim of this legislation was to actualize access to justice for vulnerable groups in line with Goal 16 of the SDGs. For the first time in Kenya, the role paralegals play in access to justice was recognized. Three years later and much is yet to be achieved in implementation of the Act. This is so, as most governments do not prioritize access to justice when it comes to funding. More funding is provided for development projects at the expense of humanitarian projects. To fill a small crack in the gap, Kituo Cha Sheria (one of the oldest NGOs working on access to justice) has used the little resources at its disposal to create community and prison justice centres where paralegals are trained and equipped with self-representation skills. Training of paralegals is a direct means of legal empowerment as a process that brings about systemic change through which the poor and excluded become able to use the law, the legal system, and legal services to protect and advance their rights and interests as citizens. The community and prison paralegals trained by Kituo offer accessible and independent legal services to fellow citizens, especially the poor and marginalized in prisons and in their communities. At the community level, they offer legal first aid and mediate on simple matters. At the prison level, they use the knowledge acquired to prepare for the ongoing cases and for appeals. Kituo trained Mr. Wilson Kinyua as a prison paralegal in 2012, at the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison. He had been in prison since 1998. After various progressive trainings, he was confident enough to file a Constitutional Petition at the High court of Kenya as the lead petitioner with 11 others whom he represented. At the determination of the Petition, Wilson and 5 others were released on 13th February 2019. His walk to freedom 19 years later goes to show how legal empowerment is a good and useful tool in achieving access to justice. Access to justice is a basic human right as well as an indispensable means to combat poverty, prevent and resolve conflicts. We will stay the course and make access to justice for all in Kenya a reality.

This is the success story of Wilson Kinyua…

Wilson Kinyua was only 19 years old in 1998 when he took to the capital, Nairobi from his home in Nyahururu to pursue his higher education barely a year after he had just finished high school. He managed to enroll to Strathmore College and all was well for Wilson three months on until one day when things went south and his life took a turn for the worst. Wilson was on his way to catch a bus in town when he was caught in a cross fire between the police and armed robbers. In the chaos that ensued, he was unfortunate to land in the hands of the police together with some other people. Whereas the others were released after the public came to their defense claiming they were well-known locals who were innocently going about their daily duties, Wilson was not lucky enough as he was new in town with little known of him.

The then young man was taken to court and charged with robbery with violence, a capital offense which attracts the death penalty if found guilty. Being a country boy who was new in the city without any knowledge of the law- he could not even properly express himself, Wilson was taken through the court process without any legal representation and was found guilty of the offense for which he was convicted and sentenced to death. He did not come from a wealthy family that could afford to hire a lawyer for him and this meant that the prosecution found it easy to convince the court against him. Wilson was then sent to the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison as he waited for his date with the hangman.

All hope was lost for young Wilson as his fate had appeared to have been sealed. However this was soon to change when Kituo Cha Sheria, through its project ‘’Promoting access to justice for the poor and marginalized’’ visited the Kamiti Maximum Security Prison in 2012 and conducted a free paralegal training for inmates; among them was Wilson Kinyua. The paralegals were trained and equipped with knowledge on the criminal justice process, self-representation and also on how to properly address the judge and articulate issues well in court. This proved to be the turning point for Wilson Kinyua’s pursuit for justice as he was inspired to kick-start an appeal process against his sentencing while also representing 11 other inmates. This was in the High Court of Kenya at Nairobi Petition No. 618 of 2010.

After a long appeal process that took years Wilson finally got his date with freedom on Wednesday 13th February 2019 when Justice Luka Kimaru released him together with five of the 11 others whom he had personally represented in a constitutional petition. In an interview with Kituo, Mr Kinyua expressed his gratitude to Kituo Cha Sheria for the help he got through the training he received. ‘’I acknowledge the work of Kituo Cha Sheria especially on their program of training paralegals. It is something they started small but has had a great impact to many people. The trainings on basic legal rights and on court processes equipped me well to represent myself in court and secure my freedom.’’ he said. Wilson affirms that with knowledge comes better self-expression and communication, using the knowledge prison paralegals get from Kituo’s trainings, they are better equipped to support their peers, and are able to grow.

Kituo Cha Sheria holds regular trainings for paralegals in different parts of the country aimed at promoting access to justice for the poor and marginalized to realize its vision of a society of Justice and Equity for All.

By:

RCKM


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