Dress code not priority change at Judiciary

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The Chief Justice Dr Willy Mutunga is no doubt a man who received wide popularity and legitimacy in his appointment to lead and bring the much need reforms in the Kenyan judiciary.

He comes with impeccable academic credentials and experience in academia and the civil society; he had his job well cut for him. To complete his image he joined Twitter and Facebook.

Whereas the Judicial Service Commission has just appointed 28 new High Court judges – a long overdue move – I have grave reservations about whether the CJ sees the urgency of real reforms of the institution he heads.

During his first Judges Colloquium as the Chief Justice and the President of the Supreme Court of Kenya, the CJ presented and had discussed an academic paper on Dressing and Addressing Kenyan Judiciary.  The paper with judges’ input was a 47-page document.

It is a well researched academic paper tracing the history of judicial officers’ dresses and titles complete with comparative analysis.

Those privy to legal research and writing will tell you that legal writing is no mean task.  The Chief Justice must have spent a great deal of time working on this paper.

Writing papers and presenting the same is not treasonable and felonious but I believe that concerning oneself with how judges should dress and be addressed is the least of issues bedevilling the Kenyan judiciary and the CJ knows or ought to have known this.  There are more grave issues which need more attention than this.

An accused person who has been in remand for a decade waiting for completion of his trial would be less concerned with whether a judge puts on a black robe or a maroon one.  A litigant whose file is “lost” in the registry does not gives a hoot if a magistrate is addressed as your Honour or Your Lordship; whether female magistrates come to court in tight jeans or not reduces not the level of corruption in the judiciary or raises the level of staff morale.

I would be more than happy if the Chief Justice presents less than a 47-page paper on efficient case management, filling the alleged corruption loop-holes and breaking corruption cartels that may be there in the judiciary, harmonisation of administration of justice in light of the devolved governance under the Constitution, adoption of international standards and best practices in the administration of justice in Kenya; improving judicial infrastructure and real access to justice before making presentations on fashion and design.

When I raised this with my learned colleagues, they called me a prophet of doom.  A devil’s advocate let me be.

To spend judicial time and have judges discuss and debate pedantic issues such as how they propose to be dressed and addressed in the face of huge challenges facing the judiciary at this point in time including the imminent vetting of judges and magistrates is clearly misplaced and in my opinion borders abuse.

It is too early to judge the performance of the CJ but if his reforms start with dress and address, it is a stride in the wrong direction which he must stop and refocus.

I have nonetheless trimmed my expectations of the CJ to manageable levels.

Moses K. Chelanga is an Advocate of High Court of Kenya and Legal Consultant, Email:mchelanga@hotmail.com.

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