From nine years behind the bench at the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague, Netherlands, to the boardroom of Strathmore College Dispute Resolution Centre, and with plenty of accomplishments in-between, the Honorable Joyce Aluoch has had both a challenging and satisfying career. Joyce started her journey in legal excellence by following the wishes of her father, “Law was not my choice of career. I had never imagined that I would be in the courtroom.” She quickly found that she enjoyed the subject, and as with anything she has started to do in her life, she took it to the highest level possible.
Establishment of the Family Division
After passing the bar, she started her career in the Kenyan judiciary where she rose through the ranks, and whilst in the High Court, she quickly saw the need for the establishment of a Family Division in the High Court. There was the Commercial Division, Civil Division, and Criminal Division, but lacking a family division. She saw the need for the creation of a separate division of the court due to the fact that most court hearings for family-related matters were not conducive to the schedules of families. He told her that the family division was not important, which she strongly disagreed with, “It is more important than all those other three divisions combined because everything begins at the family level. If you are not happy, you can’t do business. So I fought my way until we eventually had the Family Division.” She went on to head the division for the next 5 years, before passing its leadership on. Joyce was the second female magistrate and the second female judge to serve in Kenya.
Joyce also simplified the procedure in the Succession Act, making it easier and more affordable for parties to access forms and applications in the case of a deceased family member leaving a Will. This was just before the HIV/AIDS pandemic became a scare in Kenya. “I strived to make it simpler for parties who could not afford lawyers to apply on their own. The procedure was eased so that the legal documents could be obtained as quickly as possible to enable guardians and/or relatives to have access to bank accounts of deceased parents in order to enable children to continue with their education by paying school fees. This coincided with the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Kenya when many parents died in quick succession, leaving behind orphaned children.”This brought the Law of Succession into sharp focus for Joyce, as she was addressing a clerical issue that has wide implications throughout her county. “I know now that what I was doing is called mediation, because I made it easier for parties to talk to each other in my court and craft resolutions of their own. I just did not call it mediation since I did not know about it as a mechanism for resolving disputes.”
Mission for Children’s Rights in Northern Uganda
In 2005, Joyce went to northern Uganda with UNICEF to assess the situation and write a report for the African Union (AU), which was later adopted by them, on the plight of children who were being terrorized and recruited by the Lord’s Resistant Army (LRA). The Member of Parliament from that area whom she met in Kampala tried to dissuade her from going, but she felt she had to go. She recounted the horrors the children experienced, and many were afraid to sleep indoors, “… because they felt so insecure at night, the slept on the verandas of the shops. They did not want to go into houses since they felt that the LRA would come to abduct them from their homes. I would talk to the children and persuade them to go to the Oxfam structures instead,” she expounded. The children would often tell her that they were safer sleeping outside so they could escape in case they sighted LRA forces, they could flee uninhibited. Upon returning to Kampala, she met with the Kenyan ambassador who told her it was the most dangerous thing she had ever done in her life, Joyce responded “I didn’t think so. Human beings are up there. I felt I was in a position to help and why not? I had the edge to go and help. In a way, I was privileged because I went to school properly, was qualified, and had a job. I felt it was not right for me to just sit and do my job and not think of other people, especially children, most of whom were suffering.” These moments are the ones that drove her involvement in child and human rights advocacy.
Nomination to the International Criminal Court
During 2008, Joyce was completing her GMAP Master’s degree course, at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Boston.” Soon after graduation, she was nominated for the ICC, position to run for elections as a judge. She was not the original nominee for the position but replaced the judge who had first been nominated. “I was just lucky that the other judge’s nomination was withdrawn. It was by God’s grace and favor that this happened to me and that is how I described it at the time and even today.” At that time, Joyce was one of the few judges who pursued higher education. Before her nomination, she had never expected to serve internationally. She began her term in 2009 at the ICC, at The Hague, and completed it in 2018.
From the Bench to Mediation
Always looking ahead, Joyce began planning for what she would do after completion of her 9-year tenure at The ICC. She started thinking about other mechanisms for resolving conflicts, “court litigation is just one mechanism, there are several others: Arbitration, mediation, negotiation, and more. Come 2016, I decided to accrue so leave and I went to London to take a course in arbitration at the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.“ The following year, she took another course in London, but instead on mediation, at Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution. Presently she mediates cases for the Kenyan Judiciary throughCourt Annexed Mediation and also privately, as well as with FIDA Kenya, promoting women’s rights and Strathmore Dispute Resolution Centre. She works on family, commercial, labour and employment mediation etc., as much as she can. “I find a lot of joy when parties reach a settlement on their own, and I always make them shake hands!” Joyce continues to grow as a mediator and is developing her mediation style which she notes has been influenced by her legal background, she feels in tune with the parties and knows how to encourage them to open up.
Joyce is now an MBBI Board Member and is working on obtaining international mediation qualifications with the International Mediation Institute (IMI). She gave the convocation speech at Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University in Boston, in 2018 and she continues to work with Court Annexed Mediation program, and many other organizations. “I believe that I prepared myself for what I am doing now. Mediation, MBBI, and peacebuilding. Mediation’s main goal is to build peace by getting people to get together and resolve issues. I feel that it is something I can ready to do!”
Article by Kylea Shropshire, MBBI Writer