By ANNE A AMADI
Recent administrative issues in the Judiciary touching on magistrates, especially, appear to have spawned a few misunderstandings that beg some explanation from the institution, in the spirit of transparency and accountability, which are core ethos of our transformation drive.
It has been alleged that the recent transfer of over 30 magistrates to various stations was less than prudent. The thrust of the argument is that the transfers were abrupt, will complicate part-heard cases and adversely affect the personal lives and morale of the affected magistrates.
It is instructive that such claims have been prefaced with a welcome acknowledgement that the law sanctions the transfer of judicial officers to serve Kenyans in any part of the country.
Our addition to this position is that the Judiciary has a transfer policy that was promised by the Hon Chief Justice in his 120 Days speech in 2011. The policy augments the law in this regard and was developed with the foregoing concerns in mind.
The magistrates transferred recently weregiven three months notice,as provided for by policy, to enable them to conclude part-heard matters and to prepare themselves in other ways before shifting to their new stations.
The officers were also advised against opening new matters that may outlast the notice period. The objective was to ensure that litigants are not inconvenienced.
Judicial officers are well aware that transfers are not unilateral and, in normal circumstances, will not be initiated until an officer has served in a station for at least three years. Officers serving in designated hardship areas cannot be transferred to another hardship area, for at least six years.
These regulations are not cast in stone, that is why an appeal mechanism exists for officers who may have compelling reasons to have their transfers reviewed. Indeed, officers are ordinarily notified of the existence and membership of the review committee in their transfer letters.
The Judiciary’s transfer policy was informed by a transparent and consultative process that drew heavily from recommendations by our judicial officers. No contestation exists on the policy.
Transfers of judicial staff have been a normal practice. As a matter of fact, over 100 magistrates were transferred from their stations in 2012. In 2014, the Hon. Chief Justice transferred a large number of High Court judges to various stations across the country.
Many other magistrates and judges have been transferred in-between. Good administrative practice,in our case, does not encourage the retention of an officer in one station for too long.
These transfers are primarily undertaken with consideration of the leadership and composition aspects of court stations and to improve service delivery and management.
Media reports have also alleged a “go-slow” among magistrates following our initiative to re-confirm the bona fides of some judicial officers who joined the Judiciary in 2011. The exerciseis normal administrative diligence and no complaint related to service delivery in magistrates’ courts has been received from litigants or the Law Society of Kenya. Similarly, no dissenting representation has been received on the issue, and individual magistrates continue to respond to the request.
Another issue raised relates to the decision to invite external applications for vacancies in the magistracy. This matter is now the subject of litigation and we shall let the court to determine the way forward.
We hope this explanation clarifies issues that have recently created misunderstanding and needless confusion.
(The author is the Chief Registrar of the Judiciary).