Fairness urged in vetting of the Bench

Saturday August 28 2010

Photo | File Judges take oath of office after the promulgation of the new Constitution. The new law requires that judicial officers be vetted in the next few months.  A bill giving the guidelines of the vetting has been published.

Photo | File Judges take oath of office after the promulgation of the new Constitution. The new law requires that judicial officers be vetted in the next few months. A bill giving the guidelines of the vetting has been published. 

By SAM KIPLAGAT [email protected]

Court of Appeal judges will be the first judicial officials to be vetted by a tribunal to be appointed soon.

A Bill is to be tabled in Parliament to set the process in motion. After the appellate judges, the High Court judges and chief magistrates will follow in that order.

But a number of proposals they made on how they would have liked to be vetted have been disregarded.

The tribunal will comprise nine members nominated by several bodies and approved by Parliament.

In the Vetting of Judges and Magistrates Bill, 2010, the Ministry of Justice has proposed the members be nominated from the Law Society of Kenya, the Institute of Certified Public Accounts of Kenya, International Federation of Women Lawyers (Fida) Kenya and the Kenya Private Sector Alliance.

Other bodies are a joint forum of religious organisations, the Kenya Judges and Magistrates Association, the Central Organisation of Trade Unions and the Association of Professional Societies of East Africa.

Each organisation is expected to submit two nominees with “high moral character and proven integrity and knowledge” to the Justice minister Mutula Kilonzo, who will take the names to the National Assembly for approval.

The judges had proposed that the tribunal comprise three members of the reconstituted Judicial Service Commission and six members picked outside the JSC but experienced lawyers and retired judicial officers with proven integrity.

Judicial officers who do not want to face the tribunal have an option of retiring with all their benefits. The tribunal has one year to vet all the judges and magistrates but Parliament can extend its mandate by one more year.

The judges had proposed the same period, saying it would help reduce anxiety among the judicial officers.

When contacted, a number of lawyers welcomed the proposed tribunal, saying it would be structured in a manner that would ensure justice and fairness. But some cautioned that judges be treated with dignity.

According to the lawyers, the proposed tribunal would be different from Integrity and Anti-Corruption Committee of the Judiciary, otherwise referred to as the Ringera Committee, which saw 23 judges suspended and 282 magistrates sacked on corruption allegations.

Five judges were cleared and reinstated and three of them, Philip Waki, Moijo ole Keiwua and Daniel Aganyanya, sit in the Court of Appeal.

The other two, Roselyne Nambuye and Msagah Mbogholi, are back at the High Court. Two others, Tom Mbaluto and Vitalis Juma were removed from the judiciary. They have challenged the outcome and their cases are in court.

Fida executive director of Fida Grace Maingi has urged the tribunal to stick to international best practices while discharging its mandate to ensure justice is upheld.

Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) commissioner Hassan Omar also cautioned the tribunal against repeating mistakes committed by the Ringera team.

“We do not want to see blanket victimisation,” Mr Hassan said.

The parliamentary bill however ignores demands by judges that the National Security Intelligence Service (NSIS) and the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) be involved in the tribunal to vet them.

The tribunal will consider any recommendation for prosecution by the AG, KACC or any complaints from any citizen, professional body or government agency.