Omollo faces panel as judges vetting starts

Wednesday February 22 2012

PHOTO | FILE  Justice Riaga Omollo.

PHOTO | FILE Justice Riaga Omollo. 

By BENJAMIN MUINDI [email protected]

Appeal Court judge Riaga Omollo will on Thursday face the judges and magistrates vetting board on the first day of interviews in which 55 judges and 350 magistrates will be questioned for suitability to serve in the Judiciary.

Justice Omollo’s past work record, including his competence and diligence, pending cases against him or recommendation for prosecution are some benchmarks to be considered in determining his suitability as a judge.

Other considerations are likely pending complaints against him from agencies such as Law Society of Kenya, the anti-corruption agency, Advocates Complaints Commission, police or the Judicial Service Commission, the vetting board’s chairman Sharad Rao said on Wednesday. (READ: Court says yes to vetting of judges)

Evidence presented

If the evidence presented before the board will not satisfy his suitability as a judge, Justice Omollo will be suspended within 30 days or sent on leave.

Mr Justice Joseph Nyamu faces the panellists on Friday. “We guarantee that this process shall be conducted in a fair and transparent manner and shall follow all the rules of natural justice,” said Mr Rao.

He was addressing journalists at the vetting room in Anniversary Towers, Nairobi.

“The inclusion of foreign judges is to ensure that the vetting shall be devoid of local interference as political, ethnic or otherwise and that there should be no cause for apprehension among members of the public,” he noted.

The foreigners are Lady Justice Georgina Wood (former chief justice of Ghana), Mr Justice Chomba Fredrick (Zambia) and Mr Justice Albeis Sachs (South Africa), who are teaming up with six Kenyans.

The Kenyans are Ms Roseline Odede (vice-chairperson), Mr Meuledi Iseme, Prof Ngotho wa Kariuki, Mr Justus Munyithia and Mr Abdirashid Abdullahi. “It is now the opportunity for the judges and magistrates to cooperate with the board during the process,” Mr Rao said.
He noted that no judge or magistrate had opted out of the process except for one who would be retiring.

The vetting is expected to last one year.

Judges will be vetted during the first three months by the nine-member panel, before they split into groups of three members each to scrutinize the magistrates in a period of six months.

Mr Rao said that the sessions will be privately conducted unless one opts to invite the public or the media, and that information obtained during personal interviews and records of the judge or magistrate being vetted shall be confidential.

“The integrity of the members of this board and the inclusion of the foreign judges should suffice to guarantee that the process will be transparent and fair,” Mr Rao told journalists who sought clarity on the privacy of the vetting process.

The board shall, upon determining the unsuitability of a judge or magistrate to continue serving in the Judiciary, within 30 days of the determination, inform them in writing, specifying the reasons for the determination.

Once informed of the decision the judge or magistrate shall be deemed to have been removed from service, according to Judges and Magistrates Vetting Act.

The decision to remove a judge or magistrate from service shall be made public.

But a judge or magistrate who has undergone the vetting process and is dissatisfied with the determination of the board may request for a review by the same panel within seven days of being informed of the final determination.

The move to vet judges and magistrates is hinged in the Constitution as the country sought to clean up the Judiciary from corruption and other ills and enact an efficient and competent system to deliver justice for the people.

The vetting process had been opposed by Mr Dennis Mangare, a law student, who sought orders to halt the exercise saying it was unconstitutional as it contradicted the substantive provisions of the Constitution relating to the independence of the Judiciary.

The Judges and Magistrates Association supported the application, claiming that they would suffer prejudice and some of them risked losing their jobs.

But on Tuesday, Court of Appeal judges Emmanuel O’Kubassu, Alnasir Visram and David Maraga vacated the orders and ruled that the issue is of great public interest given that Kenyans resoundingly voted for the vetting process by approving the Constitution during the referendum. (READ: Court lifts order on judges' vetting)

“There is legitimate public expectation that the vetting process must continue and we take judicial notice that the vetting board is ready to begin work with a set timeline. Considerable public funds have been invested into the process; we simply cannot halt its work,” ruled the judges.

On Wednesday Mr Rao described the ruling as very transparent and fair setting the stage for a clean-up in the Judiciary.