THE CONCEPT OF CHILDREN COURT USERS’ COMMITTEES (CCUC)
Just like many transiting countries in Africa, Kenya’s own Juvenile Justice System is undergoing robust changes occasioned by the enactment of Constitution of Kenya 2010. Reforms under this sector touch on legal and policy frameworks that are currently undergoing review to conform to the new constitutional realities, including the total overhaul of Children Act of 2001 . In this process, and the foreseeable future, the concept of CCUCs will remain an innovation that would ensure consolidation of practices and actions towards the enhancement of protection and security of children who find themselves enmeshed in the complex legal system.
CCUCs as an innovation, and evidence.
In Kenya’s justice system, CCUCs concept was a new tool introduced and piloted by Legal Resources Foundation (LRF) under improving the Kenya Juvenile Justices system Project In 2014 in Seven court stations namely: Machakos, Tononoka, Winam, Makadara, Nyeri, Milimani and Nakuru and has since then been adopted by various jurisdictions. It’s an innovation in the administration of Juvenile Justice in Kenya that enhances access to justice for children and promotion of children’s rights and welfare. It’s adopted from the general concept of Court Users Committees (CUCs) established under the National Council on Administration of Justice vide Section 34 of the Judicial Service Act of 2011 and incorporated into Kenya’s Justice System. CCUCS come to fill the gaps in the ordinary Court Users Committees which are not ideal to adequately address such special circumstances involving children’s cases.
The critical role of CUCs in the administration of Justice cannot be gainsaid. However, the CUC has proved less effective in addressing JJS challenges which are unique, less visible, and are usually not canvassed with the vigor that adult cases attract due to poor representation and participation by their constituency. This is because CUCs lack proper mechanisms for re-targeting, articulation and follow-up/ feedback strategies on children’s issues. CCUCs, having been adopted by various court jurisdictions, have helped enhance service delivery in JJS by identifying gaps and initiating actions necessary for enhanced juvenile justice. As a matter of fact, the NCAJ formed a Special Working Group on Children not only to specifically address such challenges, but also engage with various actors in the JJS arena on policy issues at level nationally. The CCUCs are intended to provide unique opportunity for actors in the Juvenile justice system to engage more collaboratively in enhancing the efficiency of their respective agencies, accountability and more importantly, ensuring the principle of best interest of the child is guaranteed in every decision involving children cases.
It is also an accountability tool critical in monitoring and evaluating achievement of results and areas of improvements within the juvenile justice system. Therefore, it aims at improving performance of courts and all actors within the juvenile justice chain. In a nutshell, CCUCs adds value to the juvenile justice chain by providing a peer review mechanism for the stakeholders so as to strengthen their capacities and be able to specifically focus and respond to juvenile justice needs.
Towards this end, LRF as a member of the NCAJ in collaboration with judiciary and Department of Children Services has been advocating for establishment of such specialized children CUCs since 2014 in most court stations and currently LRF is working with CUC special working group to come up with CCUC guidelines.