Court dismisses request to suspend proceedings in case challenging Kenyatta, Ruto presidential bids

The Kenyan High Court read the Riot Act to a lawyer representing petitioners who are asking the court to determine whether two Kenyan accused facing trials at the International Criminal Court (ICC) are eligible to run for president.

A three-judge panel warned Ambrose Weda against further delays in starting hearings into the petition his clients filed in January this year. Judges Isaak Lenaola, Mohammed Abdullahi Warsame, and Philemona Mbete Mwilu warned Weda on Friday after they rejected an application he made asking them to suspend proceedings.

The judges observed that months had passed since the petition was initially filed and yet Weda had not even served Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta and former Cabinet William Samoei Ruto with it. They questioned the various applications that had been made because they did not move the case forward.

“We cannot countenance such tactics,” Lenaola said on behalf of the other judges.

In his latest application, Weda argued that he wanted the suspension so he can file an application before the Court of Appeal challenging a ruling the judges made in September.

Weda represents some of the petitioners who are asking the High Court whether Kenyatta and Ruto satisfy the constitutional standards on integrity and therefore qualify to run for president while awaiting trial at the ICC. Kenyatta is set to be tried next year on five counts of crimes against humanity for his alleged role during the bloodshed that followed Kenya’s last election in December 2007. Ruto faces three counts of crimes against humanity. Both men have declared their interest in running for president in the election scheduled for March 4, 2013.

In July, Weda applied to add the names of other senior politicians to the petition, arguing that the court should settle the constitutional question on who qualified to run for high office once and for all and so other senior politicians aspiring for high office should be included in the petition. Two months later, however, the judges ruled that though the court allowed Weda to add Prime Minister Raila Amolo Odinga, Vice President Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, and Deputy Prime Minister Wycliffe Musalia Mudavadi to the petition, he did not follow the correct procedure in amending the petition. The judges decided then that the case would proceed to hearing on the basis of the original petition which only names Kenyatta and Ruto.

On Friday, the judges asked Weda whether he had already filed his appeal and he told them he had not. It is after hearing his response and objections to Weda’s application for the suspension of the proceedings from Stella Munyi of the Attorney General’s office that the judges ruled to dismiss the application.

The judges ordered that the hearings begin on November 29. They also gave Weda seven days to get instructions from his clients on how they wanted him to proceed because in their view an appeal against their September ruling was not the only route available to the petitioners to achieve what they wanted. Warsame had observed that the September ruling did not stop Weda from applying for the court’s leave to amend the petition. Lenaola observed that Weda was also free to file the petition afresh to include the names of other politicians and the reasons the court should deliberate on their eligibility to seek high office.

The petitioners in this case are individual voters, the Kenya Youth Parliament, and the Kenya Youth League as well as some of the people who were displaced from their homes during the bloody upheaval that shook Kenya after the December 2007 presidential poll. One of the petitioners was elected a Member of Parliament in September.

The petitioners initially were all represented by Anthony Oluoch. After some months, some of the petitioners changed lawyers. They are now represented by two different lawyers who have taken different approaches to the case.