By SHARLENE MUTHURI
Often when I mention to entrepreneurs that I work with startups in the justice sector, there comes an assumption that my work primarily involves funding non-profit organisations in grassroot communities that organise youth programmes – which is great but also rather unfortunate as it shows the over-reliance on donor funded opportunities in the justice sectors in Kenya and the East-African region.
At the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (HiiL), we aim to make justice user-friendly, which is still a far-fetched idea here in East Africa. This is because the journey to accessing justice is perceived as slow, expensive and complex.
Every day, we are inundated with a new set of legal issues that directly affect the local mwananchi who can barely comprehend legal processes that would help them attain justice. Globally, an estimated 1.5 billion people cannot resolve their justice problems.
To bring that nearer home, according to the Justice Needs and satisfaction report that was published in 2017, by HiiL in collaboration with the Kenyan judiciary, 63% of Kenyans had encountered one or more legal problems. Of these only 46% were able to resolve their issues. A good reason for this, is the fact that the law became interpreted by those in power as a battering ram to compel than to mediate or facilitate human relations.
People-Centred justice simply means putting people at the core of what we do, by trying to better understand them and by making connections between those who can bring relief to their unmet justice needs.
By prioritising people’s needs, we can have actual innovations that revolutionise systems that, for thousands of years, have remained rigid. Justice innovation ensures reduction of the number of cases that go into the judicial system and thereby improving access to justice as a whole.
This justice gap shows an opportunity through which innovation can bridge the gap between legal problems and resolution. However, 90% of startups in Kenya fail and most of them fail within the first year citing various reasons, among them being a hostile environment that crumbles them.
Democratise legal information
For innovation to stir socioeconomic development, creating an enabling environment is pivotal, and contingent upon the government, policymakers, Entrepreneur Support Organisations (ESOs) and associations to converge and create policies that will enable the local entrepreneur access opportunities that will enable them to scale and help millions of people.
It is important to recognize that more entrepreneurs are beginning to build business cases to resolve justice issues. Digitization of legal processes through various startups like Wakili ChapChap, Wakili 101, We Are More, have enabled more people to gain access to affordable legal aid services and therefore, getting easy access to justice.
A lot more work needs to happen to democratise legal information to the public in a simplified manner and empower young people to stir up innovations in the justice sector. Only then will we be closer to making justice user-friendly. (
— Ms Muthuri is a Marketing Associate at HiiL.