A judge hearing a case in which a former principal has been charged with killing her husband has declined to recuse himself from hearing the matter following claims of bias.
Ms Jane Muthoni, who was the headteacher of Icaciri Secondary School in Gatundu, and her co-accused, Mr Isaac Ng’ang’a alias Gikuyu, had, through their lawyer Francis Njanja, sought that Kiambu High Court Judge Joel Ngugi quits the case in which they are charged with the murder of former Kiru Boys Secondary School principal, Mr Solomon Mwangi.
They argued that the judge would not accord them a fair trial since he had early this year convicted their co-accused, Joseph Kariuki alias Karis, who confessed to having been hired by Ms Muthoni to commit the murder.
According to them, Kariuki’s conviction might have given the judge a preconceived notion of the case, and that the hearing is only a formality.
The two have denied killing Mr Mwangi, whose body was found in a thicket in Juja, Kiambu County, in November 2016.
Further, they argued that failure by the judge to grant them bail showed he was unfair, and they, therefore, wanted the matter transferred to a Nairobi court.
But Justice Ngugi, in a ruling Wednesday said the circumstances raised by the two were illegitimate, terming them mere and unsubstantiated presumptions “and do not, therefore, warrant my recusal”.
He said there were no claims that he is a party to the case, has relevant interests in it or its outcome, or has a relationship with any of the parties in the case.
“There is no legitimate reason to hear that in this particular criminal case, I lack impartiality and that I have a predisposition not permitted by facts and law to decide the case in a certain way... Consequently, the application is dismissed,” he ruled.
The judge argued that withdrawing from the case, which he described as seemingly controversial and complex, when there are no grounds, would have adverse effects on justice.
Further, he said, doing so could bring public disfavour to the court and himself, adding that a judge cannot use recusal to avoid cases that present difficulties, controversy or unpopular issues.
He said the argument that he might have a preconceived notion about the case because he convicted Kariuki was “untrue”.
The judge also said the suspects’ application was filed way too late, after 16 prosecution witnesses had already testified.
At the same time, State Counsel Catherine Mwaniki said the application was an afterthought done in bad faith with a view to delaying the case.
Regarding denial of bail, the judge said it was because of the venerability of some witnesses, coupled with the unresolved question of Mr Nelson Njiru, who is a fugitive in the case.
He said evidence received in court as well as Ms Muthoni’s statement established the connection between Mr Njiru and the accused persons, and that his disappearance raised concerns of a high possibility that they would also abscond.
The case will be mentioned on December 21, and the hearing will resume on January 22.