Our Contacts

(+254) 0722801991
(+254) 0780801991
[email protected]

Download our app

Magistrate's Court Act

The Magistrates’ Court Act is an Act of Parliament that provides for; the authority, functions, powers and procedure of the Magistrate’s Courts.

A Magistrate’s Court is among the lower Courts in Kenya. Lower Courts are formally called Subordinate Courts. Article 169 (1) of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 provides a list of the Subordinate Courts as follows:

  1. the Magistrate’s Courts;
  2. the Kadhi’s Courts;
  3. the Courts Martial; and
  4. any other Court or Local Tribunal as may be established by an Act of Parliament.

A Magistrate is a Judicial Officer who presides over a Subordinate Court. Section 2 of the Magistrates’ Court Act, 2015 gives a list of the hierarchy of Magistrates. They are (beginning from the senior-most level);

  1. Chief Magistrate
  2. Senior principal Magistrate
  3. Principal Magistrate
  4. Senior resident Magistrate
  5. Resident Magistrate

Section 3 of the Magistrates’ Court Act, 2015 - In the exercise of judicial authority, a Magistrate's Court is guided by the principles specified under the Constitution - Article 10 (National Values and Principles of Governance), Article 159 (2) (Principles guiding Judicial Authority) and Article 232 (Values and Principles of Public Service).

Section 4 (1) - the objective of this Act is to enable Magistrate’s Courts to facilitate just, expeditious, proportionate and accessible judicial services in exercise of the criminal and civil jurisdiction in this Act or any other written law.

Magistrates’ Courts have both civil and criminal jurisdictions. That means that they can handle both civil and criminal cases.

Section 6. A Magistrate's Court shall have and exercise such jurisdiction and powers in proceedings of a criminal nature as may be conferred on it by —

  1. The Criminal Procedure Code; or
  2. Any other written law

 

Each Magistrate’s civil jurisdiction is however limited to the value/subject matter of the case.

Section 7 (1) A Magistrate's Court shall have and exercise such jurisdiction and powers in proceedings of a civil nature in which the value of the subject matter does not exceed—

  1. Twenty million shillings, where the Court is presided over by a Chief Magistrate;
  2. Fifteen million shillings, where the Court is presided over by a Senior Principal Magistrate;
  3. Ten million shillings, where the Court is presided over by a Principal Magistrate;
  4. Seven million shillings, where the Court is presided over by a Senior Resident Magistrate; or
  5. Five million shillings, where the Court is presided over by a Resident Magistrate.

 

Section 7 (3)- A Magistrate's Court has jurisdiction in proceedings of a civil nature concerning any of the following matters under African Customary Law-

  1. Land held under customary tenure;
  2. Marriage, divorce, maintenance or dowry;
  3. Seduction or pregnancy of an unmarried woman or girl;
  4. Enticement of, or adultery with a married person;
  5. Matters affecting status, and in particular the status of widows and children including guardianship, custody, adoption and legitimacy; and
  6. Intestate succession and administration of intestate estates, so far as they are not governed by any written law.

 

Under Section 8 (1) the Magistrates Courts have jurisdiction to hear cases on violations of human rights under Article 25 (a) & (b) of the Constitution which grant the freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and the freedom from slavery or servitude. This jurisdiction is subject to Article 165 (3) (b) of the Constitution and the pecuniary limitations set out in section 7(1) of the Magistrate’s Act.

The Magistrate's Court does not have jurisdiction to hear and determine claims for compensation for loss or damage suffered in consequence of a violation, infringement, denial of a right or fundamental freedom in the Bill of Rights.

Under Section 9, the Magistrate’s Court has jurisdiction conferred upon it by section 26 of the Environment and Land Court Act and subject to the pecuniary limits, to hear and determine claims relating to -

  1. Environmental planning and protection, climate issues, land use planning, title, tenure, boundaries, rates, rents, valuations, mining, minerals and other natural resources;
  2. Compulsory acquisition of land;
  3. Land administration and management;
  4. Public, private and community land and contracts, chores in action or other instruments granting any enforceable interests in land; and
  5. Environment and land generally.

Recently, a three judge bench of the High Court at Malindi has held that "Section 9(a) and (b) of the Magistrate's Court Act, 2015 and Section 26 (3) and (4) are unconstitutional and therefore null and void. The court had been asked to determine the issue in Malindi High Court Constitutional Petition No. 3 of 2016 filed by the Malindi Law Society. The effect of the Judgment as far as Magistrate's Courts are concerned is that it no longer has jurisdiction to determine land and environment matters. It remains to be seen whether there will be an appeal against this decision. 

In the exercise of the jurisdiction conferred upon it under section 29 of the Employment and Labour Relations Court Act, 2011 and subject to the pecuniary limits, hear and determine claims relating to employment and labour relations.

Contempt of Court is defined to mean the offense of being disobedient to or disrespectful towards a Court of law and its officers in the form of behavior that opposes or defies the authority, justice, and dignity of the Court.

Section 10 of the Magistrates’ Courts Act - The Court have power to punish for contempt.

WHAT CONSTITUTES CONTEMPT OF COURT?

It is an offence for a person to, in the face of the Court —

  • assault, threaten, intimidate, or insult a Magistrate, Court administrator, judicial officer, or a witness, during a sitting or attendance in Court, or in going to or returning from the Court;
  • interrupt or obstruct the proceedings of the Court; or
  • without lawful excuse disobey an order or direction of the Court in the course of the hearing of a proceeding,

In the case of civil proceedings, the willful disobedience of any judgment, decree, direction, order, or other process of a Court or willful breach of an undertaking given to a Court constitutes contempt of Court.

In the case of criminal proceedings, the publication, whether by words, spoken or written, by signs, visible representation, or otherwise, of any matters or the doing of any other act which:-

  • scandalizes or tends to scandalize, or lowers or tends to lower the judicial authority or dignity of the Court;
  • prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with, the due course of any judicial proceedings; or
  • interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct the administration of justice, constitutes contempt of Court.

 

PUNISHMENT FOR CONTEMPT OF COURT

A police officer, with or without the assistance of any other person, may, by order of a judge of the Court, take into custody and detain a person who commits an offence in the face of the Court until the rising of the Court.

 

The Court may sentence a person who commits an offence constituting contempt of Court to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five days, or a fine not exceeding one hundred thousand shillings, or both.

A person may appeal against an order of the Court made by way of punishment for contempt of Court as if it were a conviction and sentence made in the exercise of the ordinary original criminal jurisdiction of the Court. The Chief Justice may make Rules to regulate procedures relating to contempt of Court.

The Court administrator is required to act in accordance with the Chief Registrar and the Rules of Court.

Section 12 (2)-The Court administrator shall be responsible for;

  1. the establishment and maintenance of the Registry;
  2. the acceptance, transmission, service and custody of documents in accordance with the rules of Court;
  3. the facilitation of the enforcement of decisions of the Magistrate's Court;
  4. certifying that any order, direction or decision is an order, direction or decision of the Magistrate's Court, as the case may be;
  5. causing to be kept records of the proceedings and the minutes of the meetings of the Magistrate's Court and such other records as the Magistrate's Court may direct;
  6. the management and supervision of the staff of the Magistrate's Court;
  7. the day to day administration of the Magistrate's Court;
  8. the management of the library of the Magistrate's Court; and
  9. Undertaking any duties assigned by the Magistrate's Court.

 

Generally, according to section 13(1) sittings of a Magistrate's Court may be held at any place within the local limits of its jurisdiction, but it shall, so far as is practicable, be held at the place designated in the Gazette.

There are however instances where a sitting of a Magistrate’s Court would be held at such other place as may be necessary. Section 13 (2) provides for the sitting of a Magistrate's Court at such other place as may be necessary for the purpose of—

  1. taking evidence in circumstances not conducive to proceedings at the gazetted station;
  2. taking evidence on commission in accordance with the Evidence Act; or
  3. taking evidence for any other reason that the Magistrate's Court may deem necessary.
  1. Section 14. The Chief Justice may make Rules of Court to regulate the procedure and practice of Magistrates' Courts.
  2. Section 17. A Magistrate's Court shall keep records of proceedings and submit returns of proceedings to the High Court as the Chief Justice may, from time to time, direct.
  3. Section 18. The Chief Justice shall take such measures as may be necessary for the supervision and inspection of Magistrate’s Courts.
  4. Section 19. A Magistrate's Court shall use seals or stamps of such kind and pattern as the Chief Justice may direct.
  5. Section 20 (1) The Chief Justice may make Rules generally for the effective organization and administration of the Magistrate’s Court.
  6. The Chief Justice also prescribes the code of conduct applicable to Magistrates. Section 21. The Chief Justice shall, within six months of the commencement of this Act (2nd January 2016), prescribe the code of conduct applicable to Magistrates. [See for proposed Code of Conduct dated 24th May 2016].

AMENDMENT OF SECTION 48 & 49 OF THE LAW OF SUCCESSION ACT, CAP 160

Section 23 of the Magistrate’s Court Act: The Law of Succession Act is amended, by repealing section 48(1) and substituting therefor the following new subsection granting the Magistrate’s Court jurisdiction to entertain any application and to determine any dispute under the Law of Succession Act and pronounce such decrees and make such orders as may be expedient in respect of any estate the gross value of which does not exceed the pecuniary limit prescribed under the Magistrates' Courts Act, 2015.

Section 24 of the Magistrate’s Court Act: Amends Section 49 of the Law of Succession Act by deleting the words "Resident Magistrate" and substituting therefor the words "Magistrate's Court"; thus expanding its application to Magistrates in general. It further amends the Law of Succession Act by deleting the words "one hundred thousand shillings" and substituting therefor the words "the pecuniary limits set out in section 7(1) of the Magistrates' Courts Act, 2015. This expands the pecuniary limits previously within the Law of Succession Act to the limits of the Magistrate’s Court Act.

AMENDMENT TO SECTION 26 OF THE ENVIRONMENT & LAND COURT ACT

Section 25. Section 26 of the Environment and Land Court Act is amended by giving the Chief Justice authority to appoint by Gazette Notice, certain Magistrates to preside over cases involving environment and land matters of any area of the country. Appeals on matters from the designated Magistrate’s Courts shall lies with the Environment and Land Court.

A list of the Court is available from the Judiciary Website here. Their Contact details are also availabe here.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

x

Subscribe to our mailing list to get updates to your email inbox