The Kenya Forum | World Environment Day: Kenya's Judiciary key player in environmental protection - The Kenya Forum

June 5, 2024

Summary

As we commemorate World Environment Day 2024 unfold; we recognize and celebrate the vital contributions of Kenya’s judiciary to environmental protection as legal frameworks are instrumental in driving sustainable change.

More by Winnie Kabintie

World Environment Day: Kenya’s Judiciary key player in environmental protection

World Environment Day: Kenya’s Judiciary key player in environmental protection

Judiciary Commissions the Environment and Planning Working Group

Understanding Judiciary’s role in environmental protection

Kenya joins the global community in celebrating World Environment Day. This year’s theme, “Ecosystem Restoration,” resonates deeply within the nation, highlighting the critical role of Kenya’s judiciary in championing environmental justice and sustainability.

World Environment Day, established by the United Nations in 1974, serves as a global platform for raising awareness and encouraging action on urgent environmental issues. With climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution posing significant threats, this day has never been more critical.

Kenya’s judiciary has emerged as a key player in the fight for environmental protection, ensuring that laws designed to safeguard the environment are effectively enforced.

Judicial leadership in environmental protection

Kenya’s courts have increasingly been at the forefront of environmental advocacy, handling landmark cases that set significant precedents for environmental law. Chief Justice Martha Koome has emphasized the judiciary’s commitment to uphold environmental rights, reflecting the constitution’s strong environmental provisions.

Our judiciary is dedicated to ensuring that environmental laws are not just words on paper but are actively implemented to protect our natural heritage,” Chief Justice Koome stated. “We are committed to holding both public and private entities accountable for their environmental responsibilities.”

The role of environmental courts

Kenya’s specialized Environmental and Land Courts have been instrumental in resolving environmental disputes efficiently and effectively. These courts handle cases ranging from illegal logging and pollution to land degradation and wildlife protection, ensuring that environmental justice is accessible to all.

“Environmental courts provide a dedicated forum for addressing complex environmental issues,” explained Justice Samson Okong’o, head of the Environment and Land Court. “They play a crucial role in interpreting and enforcing environmental laws, thus contributing to sustainable development, ” he said.

Since its inception in 2012, the Environment and Land Court (ELC) was primarily associated with land disputes, which in the public eye, made it seem like a court only for land matters. However, the court has recently created two divisions, one, dedicated to environment and planning matters and the other on land matters. This decision was made to ensure that cases related to the environment receive the attention they deserve. Primarily, EPDivision gives visibility to environmental matters that had hitherto been
overshadowed by land matters.

In accordance to the ELC New Divisions User Operations Manual, the EP division handles disputes concerning the environment and environmental rights, climate change, environment and developmental planning, environmental protection, conservation, pollution control, natural resource management, sustainable development among other related disputes.

Legal Framework and Policy Support

Kenya’s progressive legal framework, including the Environmental Management and Coordination Act (EMCA) and the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, provides a robust foundation for environmental protection. The judiciary’s interpretation and enforcement of these laws have been crucial in promoting sustainable practices and mitigating environmental damage.

Strong laws are essential, but their impact depends on rigorous enforcement,” said Dr. John Waithaka, chairperson of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). “The judiciary’s proactive stance ensures that environmental regulations are respected and that violators are held accountable.”

Judiciary Commissions the Environment and Planning Working Group
Photo credits” Terry Boke

Commissioning of the Environment and Planning Working Group

The Judiciary on Tuesday in collaboration with development partners  that included Haki Jamii Non-governmental organization, commissioned the Environment and Planning Working Group.

Haki Jamii, is focused on advocating for the economic and social rights of marginalized communities in Kenya,

The Environment and planning Working Group will play a key role in the promotion and protection of environmental rights, preservation and protection of natural resources and enforcement of those rights.

We, the Environment and Planning Group indeed have a role to play in protecting the environment and by this launch add our numbers and voice that land use must be planned and the environment protected. The launch today is marking the beginning of a great task to be carried out for the benefit of the environment and land for the greater public good of the citizens of Kenya and beyond borders.” – Hon. Justice Ann Omollo, Presiding Judge, Environment and Planning Division

Indeed, the creation of the Environment and Planning Division is a landmark decision that brings much-needed visibility and dedicated resources to issues often overshadowed by land disputes. Its mandate aligns seamlessly with Articles 42 and 48 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010, guaranteeing every citizen the right to a clean and healthy environment
and access to justice.” Zipporah Muthama, Executive Director at Economic and Social Rights Center-Haki Jamii.

Advocacy and public awareness

Ms Muthama while acknowledging the crucial role the judiciary plays in safeguarding environmental rights and regulations, highlighted the need for the Judiciary to proactively go beyond the courtroom and get active in raising public awareness about environmental rights.

The establishment of this working group is a critical step in bridging this gap. By bringing together stakeholders from diverse sectors—including the judiciary, government, civil society, and academia—we are poised to develop comprehensive strategies that ensure fair and efficient resolution of environmental and planning disputes. Our collaborative efforts will help build a system that is not only responsive but also proactive in safeguarding environmental rights,” she said.

By collaborating with other stakeholders such as the media, academia, Civil Society Organisations and grassroot organisations; hosting workshops, seminars, and public lectures, judges and magistrates are able to engage and educate citizens about their environmental rights and the legal avenues available to protect these rights.

Empowering the public with knowledge about environmental laws is vital. An informed citizenry can effectively advocate for their rights and hold violators accountable,” noted Hon. Lady Justice Anne Omollo.

Call to action
Access to justice and the right to a clean and healthy environment are rights bestowed on the citizens of Kenya under Articles 42 and 48 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010. The realization of access to justice on environmental rights and preservation and protection of natural resources will be fully effective when mechanisms are set in place to facilitate the
same.

We must continue to strengthen our environmental laws and their enforcement,” Chief Justice Koome. “The judiciary, government, private sector, and civil society must collaborate to ensure a sustainable future for our nation.”

As we commemorate World Environment Day 2024 unfold; we recognize and celebrate the vital contributions of Kenya’s judiciary to environmental protection as legal frameworks are instrumental in driving sustainable change.

 

TAGS

Related Articles