A discouraging survey on lack of confidence in the Kenyan courts

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.

A good primer on how drug courts work

Howstuffworks.com has a detailed and very interesting article on the history of drug courts and the work they do today, with a particular focus on the courts in Buffalo, New York. It’s a good read for those interested in how the court system has adapted to contemporary challenges.

Positive changes in the Michigan state courts

The Michigan courts recently announced two initiatives designed to improve the experience of being in court for their users. The Third Circuit Court in Detroit opened new lactation rooms in four different buildings to improve access for nursing mothers. And in Dearborn, a local judge has opened a veterans court to provide help to veterans with mental health or substance abuse problems who would otherwise face jail time.

Dear fellow citizen: please don’t use bomb threats to get out of a court date

This is one of those stories that makes you wince:

Courthouse officials are using a weekend arrest in a bomb threat case to warn others not to make the same mistake.

Spartanburg County [South Carolina] Clerk of Court Hope Blackley said people sometimes will attempt to get out of their court hearings by calling in bomb threats to the courthouse, forcing the building to evacuate and shut down operations.

Such actions add to the burden on an already strained judicial system and can inconvenience hundreds of other people who have rearranged their schedules to accommodate a court appearance.

“It’s a costly, logistical nightmare first and foremost, and taxpayer dollars are being wasted,” Blackley said. “The court docket is already backed up. We need every minute we can to have court be operable. It’s a huge injustice for folks who want and need their cases to be heard.”

The courthouse can be a difficult place for many people, and it is understandable why some would feel reluctant to enter that space  After all, issues affecting personal liberty, property, and relationships are determined there on a daily basis. But that is no excuse for terrifying and disrupting the lives of hundreds of other people. My goodness.

Justice At Stake closes its doors

Today brings the sad news that Justice At Stake, an important court reform group of the past 16 years, has closed down due to funding woes.  JAS had moved in recent years toward more explicit advocacy of merit selection, which did not sit well with some in its core donor base.

I had the great pleasure of working with Justice At Stake during my time with the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS), and I was consistently impressed how deftly and charismatically its leadership brought together reform groups from around the country.  I made friends and colleagues from the Brennan Center for Justice, American Judicature Society, Lambda Legal, Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, National Center for State Courts, and countless other organizations.  Even when I disagreed with certain individuals on other matters of policy, I was always heartened by our shared conviction that the American courts deserved both reform and vigorous defense.  It was a testament to the JAS leadership that we were always kept focused and on track.  Its legacy is sure to last.

 

 

The pros and cons of canines in the courtroom

This is an interesting article on the use of trained dogs in courthouses to calm abuse victims and others who must testify about highly emotional issues.  It does a nice job laying out the arguments for and against the use of dogs, namely that they can comfort witnesses and elicit better testimony, but they also risk prejudicing juries against criminal defendants by making prosecution witnesses seem more sympathetic.

Former Alaska Justice receives O’Connor Award for work on civics education

Retired Alaska Supreme Court Justice Dana Fabe has been awarded the 2017 Sandra Day O’Connor Award for the Advancement of Civics Education.  Justice Fabe worked on a series of projects to promote awareness of the courts in schools and among the general public.  The award, given by the National Center for State Courts, recognizes Justice O’Connor’s work in promoting civics awareness since her retirement from the Supreme Court in 2006.

I had the honor of meeting Justice Fabe once, and she is certainly a worthy recipient of this award.