Journalists at the court registry of Kisumu High Court, photo: Ulli Schauen

Court Reporting: How to use the Cause List to identify Cases for Reporting

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As a journalist you do not have to depend on other media’s news, on tips or on hearsay when you want to find court cases that are worth reporting on. Try the cause lists first. They are the schedule of cases to be heard by a court in the near future. By using the cause list you can be the creator of an exclusive report, you start digging it out yourself instead of rechewing what is in the news anyway.

The cause lists contain information such as the court station, the court number, the name of the judges or magistrate and the quorum (where applicable), the time of mention or hearing, the names of the parties and the advocates and firms representing them. The cause list also contains various abbreviations that guide the reader on the type of case (criminal, civil, advisory opinion or judicial review) involved. These abbreviations are part of the case number which precedes each case in the cause list.

Where to find cause lists
Cause List, as hanging in a corridor

Currently, cause lists for courts in Kenya are either available at the court station’s notice board, with the customer care desk at the court station or on the legal resource website Kenyalaw.org. Here is the direct link to the Cause Lists. If you click it on a small (mobile) screen, you find the lists of the Courts which publish them online on top of the page. On a wide (computer) screen, the list of courts opens in the left side menu.

The website contains cause lists for the High Court, the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court, Kadhi’s Court, Environment and Land Court, Judicial Service Week Cause lists, Employment and Labor Relations Court, Elections Petition Court and the Chief Magistrate’s Court (at Milimani). The cause lists of all other Magistrate Courts are not online, you find them at the registry of each court or the customare care desk There are cause lists of up to forty high courts in Kenya on the site.
Direct link to the Cause Lists on Kenyalaw.org- kindly check them to see

Interpret the Abbreviations

At first sight the lists seem to be just boring and simply administrative information for people involved. But then: Start by looking at the abbreviations in the case numbers to find out what could be interesting. The abbreviation hints to the type of case: A constitutional petition (CP) at the High Court in your reporting area? That might be worth reporting about. A petition to review an administrative decision of the county government (JR)? That is a conflict between citizens and the state and is frequently of political interest. And then there are the criminal cases, of course, Abbreviation (CR). You can identify the criminal cases and appeals also very easily because the republic (R) is always involved as one of the parties in the case). The full case number begins with one of the abbreviations followed by a number, a slash and the year in which the case was filed. For a list of abbreviations that we can explain, please click below.

The Parties…

The next pointer is in the names of the parties involved. By reading through the names of the parties in the cases, one can identify high profile cases and cases that may be of public interest. Are there any public names and figures in the cause list? Big companies? A tax case involving the well known local hotel might be of interest. A case involving a service company that affects the lives of many may provide some insights.  The limitation of this, however, is that names are withheld for matters involving minors and some family matters.

… The  Advocates …

In addition, for the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court and the High Court, the cause lists contain the names of the law firms or the advocates representing the parties. One look at the cause list could tell you cases of great interest depending on the advocate or law firm on record. Some law firms are known for their expertise on certain matters and the type of clientele they represent. The same applies to the advocates on the case. For public interest litigation, it is common to come across the names of public interest organizations and Okiya Omtatah who is a re-known activist for public interest litigation and representation of the minority, marginalized groups in society. It is also helpful to give priority to cases with a big number of interested parties and amicus curiae, (literally: “friends of the court”, who are invited to give insight as experts in the topic in question). Many of them are civil society organizations like Katiba Institute, the Kenya Section of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ-Kenya), Kituo cha Sheria and Federation for Women Lawyers (FIDA). It is safe to say that the more the interested parties, the more the competing interests in the matter and as a result the decision is likely to shape or change both legal jurisprudence and public policy on the matter.

The Judges

For the higher courts, it is also prudent to look into the composition of the bench provided in the cause list. This includes the High Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. Some Judges are known for their specialty in certain matters, so it is good to study the profile of the judges and their past decisions. In addition, if the bench has three or more judges hearing the matter, this points towards a high profile matter.

But what is it about?

The cause list keeps quiet about what a case is exactly about. This you must find out to prepare yourself for proper reporting. There are basically four ways to do this: The most reliable way is to read into the file with that case number. You usually are entitled to see it at the registrar of the court and from all the interested parties (if they are prepared to show it to you). The second way is to ask the staff at the registry and executive officers of the court for cases that are worth reporting about. We are preparing an article about “why you should be friends with the clerk.” Thirdly, you may meet or call up the advocates of the parties involved. The fourth way is to contact the parties of the case as named in the cause list.  It may not be easy find their phone numbers, but at least some of informants will be present at the mentioning of the case, where you may ask them questions or ask them to allow you a look into the file. Don’t expect much information from the mentioning itself though.

Frequency of Publication

Depending on the court, the cause lists may be published daily, weekly or monthly. Some of them are a mess, though, with adjustments and changes thrown onto the same web page by a clerk as they come. Even in a weekly or monthly cause list, there may be adjustments or changes of time and days on shorter notice.  Most courts in Kenya now publish cause lists of up to one week. The Supreme Court often as a matter of practice publishes cause lists of between one to three months.

The Type of Proceedings

The cause list also mentions the type of the proceedings at the different stages the cases are going through, like mentions, mentions for direction, pre-trial hearings, directions notice of motion, mitigation hearings, plea bargain, hearing, ruling . These will be explained on a separate page on RoGGKenya.org.

We suggest to our colleagues, the journalists, to check on your field of interest or the judiciary in your area by looking at the cause list of that specialized or regional court. There is a lot to be dug out.

by Jennifer Githu
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The Prime Source for Cause Lists nationwide

Direct link to the Cause Lists on Kenyalaw.org

Cause List Abbreviations
Terminology in the Court System
Case Numbers Means…
CA Civil Appeal
CC Civil Case
CCC unknown (Kitui High Court)
ELC Environment and Land Court
HC.CR.REV High Court Criminal Review
HC.MISC.CR.APPL High Court Miscellaneous Criminal Appeal
HC.MISC.CR.REV High Court Miscellaneous Criminal Revision
HC.MSC High Court Miscellaneous
HCA HighCourt Civil Appeal
HCC HighCourt Civil Case
HCCA High Court Civil Appeal
HCCR High Court Criminal Revision
HCCR MISC APPL High Court Crminal Revision Miscellaneous Appeal
HCCRA High Court Criminal Review Application
HMISC High Court Miscellaneous
HSUCC High Court Succession Cause
JR Judicial Review
LAND Land Caese – found in Kitui High Court
P&A Probate & Administration
PET Petition
SUCC Succession Cause
(no abbreviation) Election Petition
“vs. Republic” = Criminal Cases

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