Determinants of Access to Legal Representation by Child Offenders in Nairobi City County, Kenya
Kitegi, Mary Awuor
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When a child is accused of committing a crime, that child is entitled to a fair hearing before a competent court of law. One of the most important safeguards for the fairness of criminal proceedings is the right to legal representation. However, in Kenya, most children when charged with criminal offences navigate the court system without the assistance of a lawyer. When effective legal representation is not provided, the juvenile justice system cannot protect individual rights, provide rehabilitation or effectively hold child offenders accountable for their actions. Access to legal representation is based on a range of complex and interconnected social, economic and organizational factors. The general objective of this study was to investigate the factors which determine whether or not a child offender accesses legal representation when charged with a criminal offence. The study was guided by the child rights theory and adopted a descriptive research design. The study was conducted in Nairobi City County and had a study population of 61 0 subjects. A sample size of 61 was selected from the total population using the purposive sampling method. Data was collected using a questionnaire and an interview guide. The questionnaire was administered to the respondents who were drawn from parents or guardians of child offenders, advocates and legal aid institutions while magistrates were interviewed. The results of the study showed that legal awareness, the cost of legal services, organizational characteristics of legal service providers and the timing of appointment of counsel are some of the' factors that affect access to legal representation by child offenders. The study recommends the incorporation of legal education in the school curriculum and increased funding for the institutions responsible for managing and delivering publicly funded legal representation such as the. Judiciary and the National Legal Education and Awareness Programme. Further, there is need for the Judiciary and the Law Society of Kenya to develop national standards and guidelines for the delivery of legal representation to child offenders. It is also necessary to introduce a national 24 hours free hotline in every police station which should be a dedicated line staffed by lawyers providing advice to children, parents, guardians and professionals working with children.