Demystifying the Small Claims Courts in Kenya
Updated: Sep 8
With the monumental backlog of cases the courts are dealing with, turning to the ultimate arbiter became a challenge for a good number of parties with genuine grievances. For single-track disputes that are easily solvable within a month, slogging it out in court simply became unpalatable.
The time had come to introduce processes to claw back on the backlog the courts were experiencing, and also help to dispense justice in a timely manner. Among the many measures the Judiciary has put forward, such as encouraging Alternative Dispute Resolution methods, one other important step came to fruition – The Small Claims Court.
What is the Small Claims Court?
This is a specialized type of court with a specific scope on the kind of cases they can entertain and pass judgment on. This scope is what’s known as jurisdiction.
The Small Claims Court has jurisdiction over limited matters, examples of which include:
Cases whose value is KES 1 million or under;
Contractual disputes relating to supply of goods and services;
Determining liability and compensation in regards to loss or damage caused to any property, or for the delivery or recovery of movable property.
There are other matters which, by law, the Small Claims Court cannot entertain. These include:
A dispute over a title to or possession of land, or employment and labour relations.
Objectives of the Small Claims Court
The main objective of the Court is to guarantee the right of access to justice as envisioned under Article 48 of the Constitution by ensuring:
Timely hearing of cases before the Court using the least expensive method;
Equal opportunity to access judicial services under the Act;
Fairness of process; and
Simplicity of procedure.
From these points, you will note that taking a case through the Small Claims Court is a simplified affair. You don’t need a lot of paperwork to get started as the court registry provides you with document templates. All you’ll need to do is fill in your details. Also, unlike other courts, cases brought before the Small Claims Court must be concluded within 60 days. Yes, the Adjudicators will make certain to plan consecutive hearings within the shortest time possible with the aim of giving judgment within 60 days.
Section 38 of the Small Claims Court Act allows a party that isn’t satisfied with the decision arrived at in the Court to appeal such decisions. The appeal is made to the High Court, and only deals with matters of law.
The decision the High Court makes will be final.
Review of Orders or Awards by the Court
The Act of Parliament establishing the Court gives it the power to review its orders. A review is the act of a Court looking at its own orders to determine whether it previously made the right choice, or it needs to make changes to its decision.
The review may be done by the Adjudicator by their own volition, or when an aggrieved party files a request to do so.
The grounds for a review are:
The order was made with respect to one party attending the hearings, or where the applicant had no notice of an ongoing suit against them;
The claim or order was made outside the jurisdiction of the Court;
The order was made fraudulently;
There was an error of law influencing the judgement; and/or
New facts or evidence previously not before the Court have been put forward by either of the parties.
The application should be made within thirty days of the order or award sought to be reviewed or such other period as the Court may allow.
Benefits of the Small Claims Court
The court is designed to settle civil and commercial disputes in a timely manner, while paying minimal regard to rules, formalities and technicalities common with other courts. As such, you get to enjoy various benefits including:
Flexible procedures: It is, by design, meant to assist ordinary Kenyans access justice without having to know much about the law, or tedious Court processes. This is a departure from the traditional documents necessary for presenting cases to a court of law.
Non-representation: A party can appear in Court, either in person, or through a representative who need not be an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya. The Court facilitates citizens’ access to justice and opens the Courts to the public directly.
Timely and swift determination of cases: Matters have a conclusion timeline of 60 days from the date of filing.
In as much as the Small Claims Court’s purpose is to reduce case backlogs, improve public access to justice, and open the Courts directly to the public, you may still need the services of a competent law firm to help take you through the processes that come after the Court makes a determination on a case.