Joy B. Mdivo
2008 JusticeMakers Fellow, Kenya
Joy has said that being both a Christian and a lawyer doesn’t necessarily mix. She has, however, rejected the money and power that one could acquire as a high powered attorney and sees herself instead as a lawyer who can make a difference in people’s lives. Her religious beliefs inspire her to change the course of history in positive ways: her vision is to make a contribution to the Kenyan national legal aid project and her organization, CLEAR, is helping implement it. Despite the limited resources she and CLEAR have to work with, she has faith that every individual she helps or touches is a step towards a better legal system in general.
She wants to see that people in custody get a state-appointed lawyer and that these defenders do their work well. She also wants to see a fair legal system in the Kenyan courts that gives people faith and belief in a system that has been broken for so long. She points to the phrase “Why pay a lawyer when you can pay a judge” as something that needs to be purged from the Kenyan legal system’s reputation.
The criminal justice system in Kenya is rife with poverty and corruption. The country lacks a legal aid system, even for children, and the most effective method of ensuring a court date is through bribery. Prisons are under resourced and overcrowded, leading to inhuman living conditions and abuse. Because of the backlog, even petty offenders regularly wait 3 to 5 years and even longer.
Miss Mdivo and her team visited several prisons where they conducted training sessions on how to prepare a criminal appeal. These sessions were provided to both prison officers and detainees. The prison officers were given useful information about the criminal appeal procedure, this taught them to respect the procedure, which would significantly reduce delays in preparing appeals. With regards to the detainees, these sessions assisted them in disseminating information about their rights to other cell mates.
Considering the difficulties external bodies often face in accessing detention facilities, it is a highly commendable achievement that Miss Mdivo and her team has a foothold inside the prison. She intends to organize these training sessions on a regular basis in order to ensure that prisoners have constant support.