Photo: Debora Cartagena, USCDCP

How to find newsworthy Court Rulings online

Share on Facebook Tweet Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

This is still a good idea if you still want to apply to the RoGGKenya Award (submission closing March 31st). Generate a story from this method and publish it:

If the medium you work for allows you to not only report on events that happened the very same day (and it should allow you to do more), you can dig out gold nuggets of court cases that are just a bit older. And thereby you can also dig deeper than other media who stop their work after just recording the statement of a winner or looser of a court case.

If, yes if, you can do a follow-up at the time the court ruling is typed out and uploaded to the website kenyalaw.org. Usually, it seems to take about two months after a court ruling until it appears in the database.

So, search for court cases online that are worth reporting about!

This is how to do it:
  • Surf to www.kenyalaw.org
  • There click to Case Search
  • Don’t do the simple case search! That is the google goggle. Instead, on the page click the tab “Advanced Search” (there is unfortunately no direct “deep link” to that tab page, otherwise we would provide it)
Advanced Search for Advancing Journos

You see on Advanced Search that you have a lot of ways to restrict your search to specific areas, persons, courts and times, if you use the search fields. The search process even is more comfortable when done with a mobile device compared to a desktop computer.

Warning: This is a database search. It is more precise and efficient and effective than searching the same with a search engine like google. But a database search does not forgive wrongdoings. So beware of …

  • mistypings,
  • putting search words into the wrong fields,
  • applying too many search criteria at a time.

If you don’t, the search will easily harvest wrong or empty results.

From general to refined

As a rule of thumb, start the search with general search terms of which you are sure about, then narrow down.

Illustration: Do not use a search term like “His Excellency William S. Ruto, Ph. D.”, because you can not at all be sure the name is written like this in the database field. For a start, just type “Ruto” into the parties field, because you can be sure that last name appears in the database – if he was a party in a case. If you know which time and which court you are looking for, you can narrow down the number of hits with these other criteria. And then, in the findings, look out for people with the first name William.

Example of the Search

Let us try this with one specific example whereby we have found the case mentioned on this page. The journalistic question in our case was if the budget issue in Migori county was brought to court in 2018. Let us look for any case that involves a that specific county as a participant in the case. (You can do this similarly for any other county and any other topic):

In the advanced search, click the field “court”. A drop-down menue will show you all the courts you can select. Select – for our example “High Court at Migori”. In the parties field fill in “county”. Then click the “Search” Button. The search result will show you a list of any court case document in the database by the Migori High Court. All of them contain the word county in the field for the interested parties.

Read carefully who the parties are, though. It must not be the county executive, any company that has the word “county” in its name will also show. And remind yourself of the effective way to search through long documents of court rulings.
If you think you have too many results you can narrow it down by using the other fields.

This is how the Search Fields operate

To do this, you go back in your browser to the search page and click the tab for “Advanced Search” again. Fortunately the fields that you have already used will show up again.

  • You can narrow down by restricting to a period of time. Don not leave one of the date fields open. That won’t work.
  • Case Content” looks for a word that can be found ANYWHERE in a court ruling. So this is the most general search field.
  • Subject” searches for topics that are mentioned in the headline of the court judgement. To use this field correctly requires some expertise in the usual wording that courts use – they are different from everyday language. So the field is risky. If a search results in a result with no findings, this might be the cause.
  • Case number is the most specific field, because the case number is unique to a court case. If you do not know the number and its precise spelling, it will yield nothing substantial. But it is the best field for a very speedy search for a specific case you already know about.
  • The “judge” field is good for restricting any search if you know who had handled the case. It is a dropdown menue again, so use it with no risk of misspelling a name.
  • The “date range” has to be filled out in a very specific syntax – which is unfortunately not documented on kenyalaw.org. But usually, a calender should open where you navigate to mark a specific date. Then you see what the syntax is. It spells out like “12 Sep 2018”, so – if you want, type dd Mmm yyyy .
  • Parties: see above.
  • Court: The dropdown field has many entries. You can type a word to cut it short. After typing “mig” it already restricts the choice to all courts that contain the word “Migori”, including the Khadis Court and the Environment and Land Court.
Rewarding Search Results

In the case of Migori County, we had not too many cases after the first try, we were only looking only at the time after September 2017, when the finance bill 2018 became overdue. That is how, by coincidence, we found the interesting case that we mention here in our toolbox page about “How to read Court Judgements efficiently”.

If you are reporting on a certain beat, a certain research it is worth repeating the search for “your” topics from time to time.

It is by doing this that we discovered even another Migori case worth reporting (this one): In this case, the same judge as in the above mentioned case has denied that the county has to pay 20 million KES to a company that had supplied machinery. The reason was that the tender was rigged.  No legal process, no payment. The company lost the prime mover and the water bowser it had delievered without getting the money.

The judge found: “The Plaintiff was well aware of and took part in the illegal procurement processes”, so he has to even cover the costs of the suit as well. A lesson to everybody who thinks a rigged tender he won is really a tender won! (four paras to be read to understand the case, time: five minutes of work – like we have described here).

Cases of public interest? We think, yes.

If you have your professional journalistic criteria ready for judgement you will not get lost in the search.

As we all know, land cases are of great importance for many – other than the usual criminal cases. So they are frequently of public interest. Why then not search for any recent case in the Environment and Land Court of your county.

By briefly looking at the nine cases in the Migori Environment and Land Court in the first quarter of this year we found why in January 2019 the court has banned Gold Mining by Lijing Mining Company in the Macalder area. Check it out. We don’t link the case directly for you now, because by now you can find it on your own.

More Hints for the Search

If you do a completely different search after the first one, do not forget to firstly delete all entries in the search fields!

You can read a case online or download it in different formats like pdf or doc by using the download buttons.

Use the “download with metadata“. The first page instructs you briefly on the details that are in the “metadata” of the database. Metadata (explanation on Wikipedia) are the words that the experts at the National Council for Law Reporting have written into the data fields while documenting the case. These are the very words that the search finds in the respective fields (or that it will miss out by searching erroneously).

Don’t be discouraged

(Unfortunately, like on Sunday, March 24th, 2019, we had to experience that the IT system at kenyalaw.org is not always working as it should. Advanced Search simply did not work.

But on many other days it works fine. Have fun with it – and with your exclusive follow-up stories about court cases.)