Reprieve as Judge Reviews Case Timelines Affecting Millions

DCJ Mwilu Opening Small Claims Court
Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu when she opened the Small Claims Court in Nairobi on April 26, 2021.

The High Court in Kisii, on Thursday, June 8, ruled that judgments delivered by the Small Claims Court after 60 days will be considered null and void.

Kisii High Court Judge, Patricia Gichohi, underlined that the applicants cannot enforce such verdicts.

She also clarified the law on the time limits for delivering judgments, noting that the junior court was set up with specific objectives.

"The Small Claims Court in Kenya is a subordinate court that deals with disputes involving claims of up to Kshs1 million. The court was established by the Small Claims Act, of 2016, and is intended to provide a quick, inexpensive, and accessible forum for resolving small claims.

Chief Justice Martha Koome speaking on Wednesday May 10, 2023
Chief Justice Martha Koome speaking on Wednesday May 10, 2023.
Judiciary of Kenya

"A Small Claims Court is presided over by an adjudicator, a lawyer with at least three years of experience. The court follows a simplified procedure, and there are no juries. The adjudicator is required to give a judgment within 60 days of the hearing," Judge Patricia stated.

The landmark judgment was delivered based on an appeal filed by Kartar Sign Dhupar & Company Limited after a Small Claims Court awarded Arm Cement PLC Ksh629,599 in claims minus interest, damages and legal fees.

Kartar Sign Dhupar & Company Limited moved to court on the grounds that the presiding Magistrate rendered the ruling after the stipulated 60 days.

While siding with the applicant, Judge Patricia noted that unless provided by the law in exceptional circumstances, the Magistrate should have rendered the judgment 60 days from when the application was made.

"The Court may only adjourn the hearing of any matter under exceptional and unforeseen circumstances, which shall be recorded and be limited to a maximum of three adjournments.

When considering whether to allow an adjournment on the grounds of exceptional and unforeseen circumstances referred to in subsection (3), the court may, in particular, consider, where appropriate, any of the following exceptional and unforeseen circumstances...

"...the absence of the parties concerned or their advocate or other participants to the proceedings required to appear in court for justified personal reasons which may include sickness, death, accident or other calamities," Judge Patricia explained.

She advised that parties who win their cases in the Small Claims Court must be vigilant in ensuring that their judgments are delivered within 60 days. Otherwise, they may lose the right to enforce them.

At the same time, the Kisii-based judge noted that parties who win their cases in the Small Claims Court must be vigilant in ensuring that their judgments are delivered within 60 days.

If a judgment is not delivered within 60 days, the party who won the case may lose the right to enforce it, leading to a serious legal challenge.

Supreme court Judges on December 7, 2022
Magistrates pose in front of the Supreme court Judges on December 7, 2022.
Judicial Service Commission

To file a case in the Small Claims Court, you must first file a claim form with the court clerk. The claim form must include the following information:

i) The names and addresses of the parties to the dispute

ii) The amount of money that you are claiming

iii) A brief description of the dispute

Once you have filed your claim, the court will serve a copy of the claim form to the other party, which will be given 14 days to file a response.

Suppose the other party does not file a response, you can apply to the court for a default judgment, entered against them. The other party is also denied the opportunity to defend themselves.

If the other party does file a response, the case will proceed to a hearing. The hearing will be held before the adjudicator, and both parties will have an opportunity to present their evidence and arguments.

The adjudicator will issue a judgment, either award you the money or dismiss your claim.

If unsatisfied with the judgment, you can appeal to the High Court. However, appeals from the Small Claims Court are limited, and can only be accepted if the adjudicator made an error of law.

The Small Claims Court is quick, inexpensive, and accessible, providing a fair and impartial forum for resolving small disputes.

File photo of Milimani Law Courts in Nairobi
File photo of Milimani Law Courts in Nairobi.
Judiciary of Kenya
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