1.The appellant (plaintiff in the lower court) filed a suit in the lower court vide a plaint dated May 31, 2017. He alleged that he was employed by the respondent (defendant in the lower court) as a mason. That on or about October 31, 2015, he was injured in the course of his employment in the right eye by a chip that came off the wall he was chiselling, which chip hit him in the right eye causing him severe injury upon which he was hospitalized. He claimed that he suffered loss and damage and that the accident was caused by negligence on the part of the respondent.
2.The respondent opposed the suit vide its statement of defence dated 4th September, 2017 where it denied the appellant’s allegations entirely. The respondent’s defence stated that the said accident was wholly caused and contributed by the negligence of the appellant.
3.The respondent consequently filed a Notice of Motion dated January 13, 2020, on the grounds that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear and determine the suit by virtue of section 16 of the Work Injury Benefits Act (WIBA).
4.The trial court, in its ruling dated May 10, 2021, found that it lacked jurisdiction to hear and determine the suit and accordingly struck out the suit with costs.
5.Aggrieved by the above ruling, the appellant filed this appeal dated June 8, 2021, on the following grounds:-1.That the Learned Trial Magistrate erred in law in striking out the suit without sufficient basis in law.2.That the Learned Trial Magistrate erred in law and fact in holding that the appellant’s claim was not merited, contrary to the law and evidence.3.That the Learned Trial Magistrate erred in law and fact in failing to properly consider and address the issue of jurisdiction of the Court hence arriving at an erroneous conclusion.4.That the Learned Trial Magistrate erred in law and fact in construing and applying the applicable law regarding work related injury.5.That the Learned Trial Magistrate erred in law and fact in fact by failing to consider the appellant’s submissions and the judicial authorities cited by the appellant in arriving at the decision.6.That the Learned Trial Magistrate erred in law and fact in engaging in extraneous issues which were not canvassed before the Court while making the decision.7.That the Learned Trial Magistrate erred in law and fact in failing to hold that the trial court had jurisdiction to hear and determine the case.8.That the Learned Trial Magistrate erred in law and fact by considering extrinsic matters thereby failing to judiciously exercise his discretion.9.That the Learned Trial Magistrate erred in law and fact in making an erroneous decision and without any basis in law.
6.The parties agreed that the matter be disposed of by way of written submissions, and the appellant and respondent filed their respective submissions on 13th January, 2023, and 17th February, 2023.
10.The respondent submitted that section 16, WIBA barred the appellant from taking action against it, other than in accordance with the provisions of the said statute. It argued that Section 16, when read in conjunction with section 23 (1) gives the Director authority to decide on any compensation claim resulting from an injury or death at work and clearly forbids the injured employee from initiating legal action. Further, that the constitutionality of Section 16 has been affirmed by the Supreme Court.
12.The respondent argued that the appellant’s grounds of opposition filed in response to the supporting affidavit contained matters of fact and not law. Matters of fact ought to be contained in a replying affidavit and not in grounds of opposition, which are limited to matters of law. It argued that the grounds could not amount to a denial of the allegations made on oath, and therefore, the factual elements of its application were unopposed.
Analysis and determination.
13.I have carefully reviewed the contents of the record of appeal, the rival written submissions filed by the parties, and perused the record in its entirety. Two primary issues arise in this appeal, namely:-a.Whether this court has jurisdiction to determine the appeal herein?b.Whether the trial court had jurisdiction to determine the suit herein?
14.I will begin with the first issue for the reason that in the event this court lacks jurisdiction to entertain the appeal, any determination on the second issue will be a nullity.
15.The starting point is that jurisdiction is everything, and without it, a court has no power to take any further step. This principle was stated in the classic case of The Owners of the Motor Vessel “Lillian S” v Caltex Oil (Kenya) Ltd (1989) KLR 1. Where Nyarangi J.A. held as follows:-
17.The issue before me is whether the High Court has jurisdiction to entertain this appeal. At this point, I am not addressing the question of whether the lower court had jurisdiction. The appellant’s submissions were primarily directed at the jurisdiction of the Magistrate’s Court to hear and determine the suit. Very little, if anything at all, was advanced by the appellant in support of his contention that the High Court has jurisdiction to hear and determine this appeal.
18.Article 162 of the Constitution of Kenya states as follows:2.Parliament shall establish courts with the status of the High Court to hear and determine disputes relating to-a.Employment and labour relations; andb.The environment and the use and occupation of, and title to, land.3.Parliament shall determine the jurisdiction of and function of the courts contemplated in clause (2).
19.Additionally, a review of the WIBA and The Employment & Labour Relations Court (ELRC) Act No. 20 of 2011 lead me to the conclusion that appeals arising from WIBA matters fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Employment and Labour Relations Court. For instance, section 52 (1) and (2) WIBA which relate to a decision by the Director and challenge to the same, reads as follows:-
20.The above section is in line with the recent practice directions issued by The Hon. The Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court in relation to WIBA matters and published in the Kenya Gazette Vol. CXXV—No. 99 Nairobi, on April 28, 2023, which states as follows:-
21.A further review of the case law confirms the position that the ELRC is the appropriate court to hear and determine appeals arising from WIBA related disputes under the Act.
23.In Saidi Mohammed v Diamond Industries Ltd (2018) eKLR, the court observed that the ELRC has appellate jurisdiction in disputes relating to work injury. The consequence thereof, is that appeals in relation to work injuries ought to be heard and determined by the ELRC and not this court.
24.Based on the reasons set out above, I find and hold that that this appeal ought to have been filed in the ELRC and not this court. Having found that I have no jurisdiction, I do not think that it would be proper to render my decision on the remaining issues.
25.The appeal before me is accordingly incompetent and is struck out with costs to the respondent.