Five High Court judges have been declared unsuitable to continue serving in the judiciary by the vetting board.
The Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board on Friday declared judges Mary Ang’awa, Leonard Njagi, Joseph Sergon, Nicholas Ombija and Murugi Mugo unfit to continue holding office. All the five judges have been on the bench for over ten years.
The board said judges Ang’awa, Mugo, Ombija were dismissed because they were found to be temperamental; judge Njagi sanctioned the illegal transfer of public land while judge Sergon was found corrupt.
Judges Ang’awa and Mugo were faulted mainly for their unbecoming conduct in court towards litigants and lawyers. They mistreated them and were disrespectful towards them, the board said.
Mr Sharad Rao, the chairman of the board, said it was the failure of many judges to control their emotions that had led to a large number of complaints reaching the board.
While many judges fulfilled their functions with dignity and fairness, he said, others became identified with arbitrariness and intrigue. She said such judges cultivated an imperial style— exhibiting in every action a hauteur that separated them from wananchi.
“Any criticism of the way they worked was taken as an attack on them as persons. Intolerance became the order of the day,” said Mr Rao.
He added that what matters is that differences of work style and temperament should not transgress certain shared parameters.
“In particular they should not be so extreme as to affect the manner in which justice is done, and is seen to be done,” he said.
The reasons for the removal of the five judges, range from, lack of integrity, temperaments towards lawyers and litigants, disrespect, receiving a bribe, and failing to remit client’s money.
Judge Ang’awa’s conduct of handling litigants and lawyers who appeared before her was found to be wanting. The conduct was rigid and obsessive.
Two complaints on her conduct were raised by a lawyer based in Eldoret who had appeared before her to represent a client. One complaint was that he had scorned a doctor and told him he had appeared before her in a bush shirt.
The board said judge Ang’awa’s conduct of mistreating a doctor who went to testify in a so called ‘bush shirt’ was quite unacceptable.
The doctor had gone to testify before the judge as an expert witness but the judge derided him for failing to appear in her court in a formal suit.
After testifying, he left the court but he later received summons requiring him to appear the next day to explain why he should not be punished for committing contempt by leaving the court without the judge’s permission. When he appeared before her the next day dressed is a formal suit, he made him sit in her court for six hours.
The board said the decision by the judge to order the arrest of a lawyer over his failure to appear for delivery of judgments was bizarre.
Lady Justice Murugi Mugo was too declared unsuitable due to her conduct towards the lawyers and litigants.
The board found credible evidence on complaints that she was unethically discourteous, vindictive and temperamental to lawyers and litigants appearing before her. She had refused to hear an advocate and kicked him out of her court. The judge locked up another advocate after he asked her to disqualify herself from the case.
“The judge’s conduct is far too incorrigible. The judges treatment of advocates in her court is quite unacceptable,” added Mr Rao.
Another casualty was judge Ombija who issued a controversial order for the arrest of Sudan President Omar Al- Bashir.
He was found unfit to continue being a judge because of defects in his temperament. The board ruled that the judge should have used dialogue to re-solve the problems between him and lawyers because, as a judge, he was required to reduce conflict not to produce it. Mr Rao said judge Ombija’s loyalty to the judiciary should have prevailed over his sense of self-esteem.
Judge Sergon, who was based in Nyeri High Court, was faulted for lack of personal integrity. The board said there was credible compliant against the judge that he had received a bribe from a litigant so that he could rule a case in his favour when he was a based in Mombasa in 2003.
The board said the judge had failed to explain how deposits of Sh90, 000 and Sh60, 000 had been made into his bank account at the time when the judgment was delivered.
The complainant alleged that the judge was influenced through corruption to deliver a ruling against him and others, and that the judge accompanied one of the parties to the bank in suspicious and questionable circumstances immediately after the delivery of the ruling.
Another complaint against him was misappropriation of clients’ money when he was an advocate and receiving a bribe from a litigant when he served as a judge in Mombasa. The client complained that the judge failed to inform her that he had been paid Sh550,000.
The board said the reasons provided by the judge for not handing the money over to the client were unsatisfactory from the beginning of the interview.
Judge Njagi was found unsuitable due to lack of integrity over complaint by the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (now the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission) for facilitating illegal transfer of land owned by the Kenya School of Law when he was the principal to a private company, Rockville Ltd, in which he was a director.
He wrote to the Commissioner of Lands in his capacity as the Principal of KSL and confirmed that the property was available for allocation. The vetting team also cleared other 23 judges to continue holding office. It also announced that it was still considering findings of other judges who have been interviewed.