Kenyan Chief Justice gives scorecard of first year in office

Kenya’s Chief Justice has said every one in the judiciary has been overworked, doing the work of at least two people in facilities that are rundown or not built for the needs of a modern judiciary.

This is changing with increased funding for the judiciary that has allowed it to hire more staff, establish new departments to respond to public needs as well as refurbish existing court facilities and build new ones where there were none before, said Chief Justice Willy Mutunga on Friday.

He was addressing Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, National Assembly Speaker Kenneth Marende, and hundreds of other guests at the Supreme Court grounds as he highlighted the key points of the State of the Judiciary Report. This is the first report Mutunga is making following his appointment to the position in July last year. His timing is pertinent because he was releasing the report on the eve of one of Kenya’s national days, Heroes Day, during which the people who fought for the country’s independence are remembered.

The day “demonstrates that the struggle to liberate a country or an institution is not without peril, but the challenge must be borne with(out) cowardice or hesitation,” Mutunga said in his speech.

Mutunga said that by July this year, four new High Court premises had been built. He also said all non-judicial staff had been promoted by one grade to reverse the stagnation where some staff members had remained in the same grade at the same salary for 10 years.

The chief justice gave the example of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) department where one person was doing the work of five people.

“The artificial staff shortage created a dysfunctional system that could not deliver on its mandate. In response, the Judicial Service Commission embarked on an aggressive recruitment program, focusing first on the senior staff levels,” Mutunga said.

Over the next six years, the World Bank is providing $120 million to fund the construction of new High Court buildings across the country to enable the judiciary to meet its mandate of taking justice as close the people as possible, Mutunga said. The law requires that there is a High Court in Kenya’s 47 counties. Currently there are only 20.

“In the future, however, the Judiciary envisages a situation where its funding comes entirely from the National Budget. Not only would this secure the independence of the institution, but (it) also promotes accountability,” Mutunga said.

As the judiciary continues to transform, there are sections of Kenyan society that are questioning the changes. Some are conservative lawyers who say some decisions made by the courts smack of judicial activism. This is a euphemism for saying judges and magistrates are interpreting the law in its broadest sense and not in a narrow, technical sense. Some of those questioning the changes in the judiciary are powerful political and business interests that feel threatened because the previous “arrangement” where sensitive cases would be decided in their favor is changing.

“Only the least confident, most parochial, or excessively pathological should find threats in them. The public understands this; the elite need to join them,” said Mutunga.

Unlike last year when Mutunga gave a 120-day progress report on the judiciary at a simple event at the Supreme Court grounds, this year’s report launch was a more formal event. The Kenya Police band played the national anthem at the beginning and at the end of formal proceedings. The band also played a fanfare as the chief justice, vice president, and National Assembly speaker went to sit. However, there were still things that made this State ceremony different. In a prominent place at the front was a statue of Wanjiku, the everywomen who came to symbolize the people’s aspirations in the struggle for a new constitution, and as a gift, Mutunga gave the vice president and national assembly speaker the scales of justice.

The full State of the Judiciary Report 2011-2012 can be downloaded here.