Covid-19 cases are on the rise in East Africa, but we are as determined as ever to provide equal access to justice.
Justice Defenders Country Directors Karen Saidi and Miriam Wachira provide an insight into how we've adapted our work.
Karen Saidi, Country Director Uganda
“We’re continuing to work virtually with all of our 13 prisons in Uganda. However, after a notice issued by the Chief Justice, all physical and virtual court sessions, apart from emergency cases, are suspended for 42 days. During this period, courts will be closed and will only hear emergency cases. This means our clients cannot access court, all pending matters will be adjourned and we cannot secure releases or bail unless the case is deemed an emergency.
"We expect that the number of clients we can serve during this period could be affected. The case backlog will increase, clients will stay on remand longer and prison population will increase.
“However, while the court sessions are suspended, we’ve continued to organise various virtual training sessions for our paralegals in prisons. Covering topics like bail and bond procedures, and computer training on Excel software. We’ve also conducted refresher legal training for all of our 86 existing paralegals. And around World Drug Day in June, we've planned narcotics awareness sessions for the paralegals."
“There is a wave of fear about the current situation in the country but our staff are handling the situation well. To reduce congestion in the workplace, we have developed work from home plans which have been implemented effectively. We hope that the pandemic is contained so that our activities can resume normally.
"We’re optimistic for the future as the team continues to work together virtually to support each other professionally and personally."
Miriam Wachira, Country Director Kenya
“As part of Covid-19 containment measures, all court sessions are currently being held virtually to avoid physical contact between prisoners. In Kenya, we’ve equipped prisons with internet and laptops to enable court sessions to take place online. But we’ve noticed slow internet speeds and power outages are affecting some prisons. To mitigate this we’ve recently hired an IT officer who will provide technical support to ensure that the virtual courts and IT equipment function properly.
“There has been a notable increase in the number of people charged with committing petty offences related to violating Covid-19 regulations. We’ve also noticed that e-filing of paperwork has been problematic in some of the major courts, making it difficult for our clients to proceed with their cases.
“Unfortunately, these combined factors might result in a reduction in the number of clients we are able to serve. But we’re working hard to adapt and keep serving our community. We’re able to train paralegals virtually. In addition to our regular monthly trainings, in May we trained 42 new paralegals and provided follow-up training for 67 existing paralegals.
“We hope Covid-19 will be fully contained to allow us to resume our physical support of legal offices. We also hope that stakeholders such as the Kenya Prisons Service and Court Users Committees will continue to partner with us to achieve our mutual objectives.”
“Our staff are taking every opportunity to engage with various actors in the criminal justice system. To discuss ways of improving service delivery to prisoners during the pandemic. We’re also continuing to provide personal protective equipment to our legal offices.
“I’m proud of my colleagues, who are responding positively to the challenges posed by Covid-19. We’ve created a mix of both physical and virtual working, which has gone well for us."
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