Jurisdiction and powers of the High Court

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  1. Introduction

As legal disputes arise by the day, litigants seek different avenues to solve their matters. One of the ways is by instituting these matters before a court. However, the basic and most important step is to go before a court of competent jurisdiction. According to the Black’s Law Dictionary, “jurisdiction”is the power and authority constitutionally conferred upon a court or a judge to pronounce the sentence in law, or to award remedies provided by law, upon a state of facts, proved or admitted, referred to the tribunal for decision, and authorized by law to be subject to investigation or action by tribunal, and in favor of or against persons who present themselves, or who are brought, before the court in some manner sanctioned by law as proper and sufficient.[1] Without jurisdiction, a court acts in vain. In Owners of the Motor Vessel “Lillian S” V Caltex Oil (Kenya) Ltd[2], the court stated that, “Jurisdiction is everything. Without it a court has no power to make one more step. Where a court has no jurisdiction, there would be no basis for a continuation of proceedings pending other evidence. A court of law downs tools in respect of the matter before it the moment it holds the opinion that it is without jurisdiction…” The various forms of jurisdictions conferred upon the courts include original jurisdiction, supervisory jurisdiction, and appellate jurisdiction among others. These forms of jurisdictions are discussed in relation to the High Court, Industrial Court and the Environment and Land Court. Reference is made to the Constitution of Kenya, and the statutes operationalizing these courts.

  1. Jurisdiction of The High Court

Article 165(1) of the Constitution establishes the High Court. Subsequently, subsection 2 of the same article provides that there shall be a Principle judge elected by the judges of the High Court from among the High Court judges. The Jurisdiction of the High Court is as discussed as below:

  1. Unlimited Original Jurisdiction of the High Court

Article 165(3) outlines the specific forms of the jurisdiction of the High Court. These include: unlimited original jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters, jurisdiction to hear matters on the interpretation of the Constitution, supervisory jurisdiction, reference jurisdiction, jurisdiction for the protection of fundamental rights, and, enforcement jurisdiction in respect of fundamental rights and freedoms.[3] Additionally, legislation may confer original or appellate jurisdiction to the High Court.[4] However, Article 165(3) refers to clause 5 of Article 165 as to the limitation of the High Court’s jurisdiction. The High Court is limited to matters reserved for the exclusive jurisdiction of the Supreme Court under the Constitution and matters falling within the jurisdiction of the Industrial Court, and the Environment and Land Court.

  1. Supervisory Jurisdiction

Article 165 (6) of the Constitution confers upon the High Court supervisory jurisdiction over any civil or criminal proceedings or matters before a subordinate courts and over any person,

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