Dr Willy Mutunga on Monday signalled a complete break from the past in both words and actions as he took office as the country’s Chief Justice.
Mr Justice Mutunga warned judges against being captives of political or commercial interests saying it should no longer be possible to speak about corruption and the Judiciary in the same sentence.
And the new CJ did not wear a robe and wig — the traditional attire judges wear. Judiciary spokesman Nicholas Mbeba said the Chief Justice took the decision “to break from the past”.
Robed and wigged judges are perceived as intimidating to ordinary people and Justice Mutunga’s action may be interpreted as his intention to make the institution more approachable to the common man. (READ: Was Mutunga signalling end of old order?)
His intention, he said, was to create a judiciary where both the high and the low are both equal before the law.
“It should no longer be possible to speak about corruption and the Judiciary in one breath,” Mr Justice Mutunga said at the Nairobi Law Courts after his swearing in.
The CJ told members of the Judiciary that he would be true to his oath of office by upholding the dignity and respect for the institution.
“In return for the independence the Constitution secures for us, we as judges must guard against becoming captives of political, commercial or other interests,” he said.
The CJ challenged Kenyans to equally take up their responsibility to monitor, report and ensure that the Judiciary is accountable to all.
Giving a speech at the Nairobi Law Courts after the swearing in, he urged lawyers to uphold integrity and challenged them to radically lift the ethical standing and conduct of members of the profession.
“I urge you (lawyers) as our partners in the administration of justice to use your advocacy with integrity in order to help us to keep the scales of justice in equilibrium.”
Justice Mutunga was sworn into office at State House Nairobi on Monday together with his deputy, Lady Justice Nancy Baraza and the country’s new Director of Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko. (IN PICTURES: Mutunga, Baraza, Tobiko sworn in)
The brief ceremony was witnessed by President Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo and Attorney-General Amos Wako among other senior government officials.
In his address to the nation, Justice Mutunga called for the three arms of government to “respect, preserve and protect the separation of powers as mandated by the Constitution.”
In return, he promised that the Judiciary would uphold and respect the legislative power to enact just laws, and acknowledge the executive arm’s power of governance subject to legal strictures.
This does not mean that the Judiciary will forgo its power to review the decisions made by the two arms of government or fail to jealously guard and defend its independence.
Sacrifices and aspirations
“Failure to observe and respect this constitutional design of separation of powers will not only imperil our nascent democracy but also be an unforgivable assault on the sacrifices and aspirations of the people of Kenya,” Justice Mutunga said.
In the past, politicians ignored court orders and even commented on cases pending before court knowing no action would be taken against them.
The CJ, who arrived at the Nairobi law courts around 11.45 pm wearing a jungle green suit with peach shirt, was accompanied by members of the Judicial Service Commission and his close relatives — his brother, daughter and son.
At the law courts, he went into a meeting with representatives from High Court and Court of Appeal judges.
Those who met him were Appeal judges Philip Waki, Emmanuel O’kubasu, High Court judges Mbogholi Msagah, John Mwera, Muga Apondi, Nicholas Ombija and Jeanne Gacheche.