The Judiciary remains the centre of attention because of the central role it plays in enforcing laws and administration of justice. This is the reason calls for its reform have dominated public discourse for long. For the public wants a judicial system they can trust and rely on to arbitrate over disputes and enforce sanctions on criminals.
This is particularly so in the context where high-level corruption is reported every passing day and although suspects are caught and arraigned in court, they are hardly convicted. Courts have increasingly become the waiting bay where corruption suspects mark time as years go by and eventually their cases collapse.
This week, the judges convened their annual colloquium in Mombasa whose theme is: “Balancing judicial independence and accountability.” The theme is quite poignant. It is timely and spot-on. It spotlights what afflicts the Judiciary. On several occasions, the Judiciary has been accused of frustrating the war against corruption by delaying cases and often giving warranties to officials who should otherwise be in jail; and doing so under the cloak of judicial independence.
Independence of the Judiciary is sacrosanct and non-negotiable. A pliant Judiciary is a recipe for chaos. This is the reason the Constitution prioritised reformation of the Judiciary to give it the exuberance and confidence to tackle endemic legal challenges unsettling the nation. The Judiciary must have the teeth to bite and the courage to demolish networks of evil. Nonetheless, there is concern that the judicial veil has been used arbitrarily to protect criminals. That those who can get their way through the system are able to manipulate things and escape retribution through the acquiescence, if not overt, facilitation by the judicial staff.
Thus, it is incumbent on the judicial staff to introspect and determine whether they have used professional cover to defeat the rule of law. Have they lived true to the cardinal principles of justice?
Despite the challenges, the Judiciary seems to have made some progress. Chief Justice David Maraga announced at the colloquium, for instance, that the courts have achieved remarkable success in reducing the backlog of cases. Within a year, the courts have remarkably cut the pending cases that are more than five years old, from 110,000 to 15,000, a major feat by all standards and a perfect demonstration that it is possible to expedite judicial processes and give meaning to the rule of the law. Having cut down on five-year-old cases, the onus now is to deal with all other pending cases expeditiously. Courts should be a clearing house, not a holding bay.
The Judiciary must digitise records and expand courts to take justice to the grassroots and root out corruption.