Language and the Courtroom Decision Making: What Happens in Kenyan Courts?

Author: Everlyn Oluoch-Suleh (United States International University-Africa, Kenya)
Simeon Sungi (United States International University-Africa, Kenya)
Speaker: Everlyn Oluoch-Suleh, Simeon Sungi
Topic: Anthropological Linguistics
The GLOCAL AFALA 2023 General Session


This paper investigates the role of language and its contribution to courtroom decision-making in Courts in Kenya. The focus is on the interaction between language, legal proceedings, and access to justice. The researchers examine how linguistic diversity may affect the fairness of trials and overall legal outcomes. The Republic of Kenya is a multilingual population, however, through her colonial legacy and the adoption of the Common Law legal system, the role of language and its influence in courtroom decision-making serves as an ideal case study in exploring the impact of language and access to justice. The researchers adopt a mixed-methods approach that involves qualitative interviews with courtroom actors, i.e., judicial officers, prosecutors, advocates, court clerks, and the general public, alongside a quantitative analysis of court records and case outcomes. The qualitative component will delve into the experiences of individuals who face language challenges within the legal process, highlighting instances of miscommunication, misinterpretation, and unequal representation. The interviews will inform researchers about the complexities of linguistic diversity and the challenges that it poses to effective communication, comprehension of legal rights, and also accurate representation. The quantitative analysis will focus on a sample of court cases involving defendants from linguistically diverse backgrounds, and examine the correlation between language-related factors and legal outcomes. By looking at factors such as interpretation quality, use of legal terminology, and the presence of linguistic biases, the paper will quantify the impact of language barriers on the fairness of courtroom outcomes. The findings of this paper will contribute to the knowledge of access to justice, which is a constitutional right as envisaged in the Constitution of Kenya, 2010.

Keywords: Access to justice, language and the law, adversarial legal system, multilingual societies.