The lack of meaningful access to justice impacts nearly two of every three people worldwide. The cost is greatest for those with the least. Families are torn apart, and lives wasted in the justice system.
We dare to address the issues that have long been ignored.
The opening of our first-ever legal office, outside of a prison, is a game-changer.
Poverty not only fuels incarceration rates but also puts people at a life-long disadvantage when it comes to the law. Our paralegals, working across 18 prisons in Kenya served more than 16,000 clients in 2022. Of these, 6,100 people have been freed, with 1,950 being released on bail or bond*.
But despite having access to quality legal services while incarcerated, many of the people released find themselves locked in a legal battle without a defence. Equally, entire communities facing a range of unmet criminal justice needs are unable to obtain affordable legal advice. Putting them at a greater risk of incarceration.
Nairobi is home to Kibera, the largest informal urban settlement in Africa. Most people living in Kibera earn less than $2 per day. Across Kenya, extreme inequality thwarts justice. 8,300 people in Kenya (less than 0.1% of the population) own more wealth than the other 44 million people (99.9% of the population).
Without the money to afford a lawyer, or access to the internet, the scales are tipped against the majority.
The risk is huge. Their chance to access the justice they deserve, once and for all, is left to chance.
Never complacent, we saw an opportunity to push our work further. To close the justice gap and disrupt the poverty-to-prison pipeline. Bringing justice to the rumbling heart of Nairobi.
Regardless of our status, each of us should be equally protected by the law as well as answerable to it.
In July 2022, we opened the Makadara Legal Office. Led by our Community Legal Advocate Joan Naburuki, our team — some of whom draw from their own lived experience with the criminal justice system — offer quality legal advice. Free of charge. And its impact is palpable. Hon. AbdulQadir Lorot, one of Kenya's chief magistrates, has been witness this. He said:
“I think the sky is absolutely no limit for the things that Justice Defenders can do to make Kenya and its justice system, particularly the criminal justice system, better for us so that we can have access to justice for all.”
Serving Greater Nairobi, our office is located within walking distance of one of the busiest law courts in the city, Makadara Court. Our staff liaise with court officials to hold awareness sessions for men and women in need of legal education or representation. Our office is situated in a well-guarded bustling building that houses a bank as well as a government office. This strategic location is not only accessible for people with disabilities and reachable by public transport, but also reassures clients of their safety.
One of our recent clients Hannah** was able to get the justice she deserved. A single expectant mother from the neighbouring urban settlement of Mathare, Hannah faced delays in court due to a lack of witnesses. With support from our legal office, Hannah represented herself in court. She had the confidence to object to her case being postponed. The court ruled in her favour and dismissed her case due to the unreasonable delay caused by the prosecution. After three years of prolonged court proceedings, she is now focused on her young family.
Makadara Legal Office has many similarities to our in-prison legal offices. Open to everyone, no one is turned away.
Legal officers speak with clients in a private room to discuss the details of their cases and advise on next steps. The team drafts court submissions, witness cross-examination questions, appeals and prepares clients for self-representation in court. For cases that are better solved swiftly out of court, our team facilitates alternative dispute resolution. Applying mediation techniques to resolve a dispute without resorting to litigation.
When the office first opened some clients were sceptical that the legal services were offered at no charge. “People aren’t used to getting this sort of quality service for free,” Makadara Legal Office Manager Joan explains. “Because we’ve created private consultation rooms and have excellent, skilled staff, who offer quality service, clients are at times worried they will be charged. However, we keep assuring them that our services are offered free of charge. It’s an issue we’re facing, but we’re changing perceptions and the waiting room is getting fuller each day.”
While word of mouth plays a significant role in promoting community-based initiatives, the increase in clients can also be attributed to recent public awareness activities. We created segments in the local language which are being promoted on mainstream radio.
"I am delighted that Justice Defenders has opened its legal office outside of prison," Justice Defenders Founder and CEO Alexander McLean explains. "It is a manifestation of our commitment to proximity to the most defenceless. The office is staffed by those who have been defenceless themselves and who made a decision to become defenders of the defenceless. As Oscar Romero said: 'certain things can only be seen with eyes that have cried'. We are proud of the work that is being done by our band of unlikely allies to bring justice to the defenceless in Nairobi and beyond."
Meet the team
Manager and Community Legal Advocate
Joan is a wife and mother of three children. She says she loves home-keeping alongside leading the team at Makadara. Having worked as a prosecutor for eight years, she understands the criminal justice system from both sides of the bench. Enabling her to take on more complex cases and represent clients in court.
Senior Legal Officer
Morris is a lawyer who has prior experience working as a police officer for more than a decade. After being incarcerated for 13 years, he has a holistic understanding of justice.
William’s personal experience with adversarial justice systems, having been incarcerated for 10 years, enables him to serve with pride. He enjoys research, with a focus on criminal litigation.
Titus is passionate about travelling, photography and videography. He has a comprehensive understanding of court processes and procedures. He helps to ensure the delivery of quality legal services by tracing files and filing court documents for our clients.
Josephine brings seven years’ experience working as a paralegal within prisons. She draws from her deep understanding of injustice to relate to clients.
Faith ensures the office is welcoming for all. She keeps the office well stocked and offers hospitality to our visitors and clients.
*Bail is the cash payment paid by the defendant to the court. A bond is a bondsman's pledge to make good on the bail if the defendant doesn't appear for their case in court.
**Name changed to protect Hannah's identity.
Looking for support with a legal matter?
Justice Defenders delivers world-class legal practice with, from, and for defenceless communities inside and outside of prison. Regardless of who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve done, or what’s been done to you, we will welcome you and we will defend you. Ensuring everyone is taken through the judicial process in a just and fair way.
Visit us at the Makadara Legal Office
KCB Building Jogoo Lane Junction, Jogoo Road, Nairobi (open in Google Maps)
+254 705 294576