BY LADY JUSTICE ASENATH ONGERI
I once read a very interesting story on the Internet. In the story, the prosecuting attorney asked an elderly witness if she knew him. The witness responded;”Why, yes, I do know you Mr Williams. I’ve known you since you were a young boy. And frankly, you’ve been a big disappointment to me. You lie, you cheat, and you manipulate people. Yes, I very well know you.”
Embarrassed and confused, the prosecuting attorney pointed to the defence counsel and asked the same witness if she knew him, to which the witness replied, “Why, yes I do, he, too, has been a real disappointment. He’s lazy, bigoted and has a drinking problem. The man can’t build a normal relationship with anyone and his law practice is one of the shoddiest in the entire state. Yes, I very well know him too…”
At this point, the judge rapped his gavel for the courtroom to silence and called both counsels to the bench. In a very quiet but menacing voice, the judge said,” If either of you asks her if she knows me, you’ll be in jail for contempt of court within five minutes! Do you understand?”
This short story illustrates the need to transform all stakeholders in Kenya’s justice system into ‘missionaries of justice’ if the country is to optimize benefits envisioned in the Constitution.
The Court Users Committees (CUCs) play a key role in bringing the stakeholders together and CUCs can be a tool for transformation.
For one to be a missionary, he or she has to live and strongly believe in the message that he or she is delivering. He or she has to have actively dissected the message, mastered and delivered it and have the tenacity to be its ambassador.
Missionaries, unlike the prosecuting attorney, the defence counsel and the judge in our little story above, have the strength of character not to worry about what someone will answer about them when asked,” Do you know him or her?”
The judiciary in its various capacities can indeed achieve to be ‘a missionary of justice’ once its agents start living up to the principle of being beyond reproach like Caesar’s Wife while at the same time they become upholders of human rights for all persons regardless of societal classifications.
The Judiciary’s mandate is simple, it entails the adherence of all judicial officers to the human rights message and their strict observance to personal integrity, is enshrined in the Constitution.
A missionary is selfless, ready to give his or her own life for a cause, and to ensure that the message has reached the farthest corners of his or her chosen region.
The Judiciary and its agents for transformation can wear the tag ‘missionaries of justice’ with pride and great satisfaction if it embraces a human rights based approach in its ‘missionary’ journey to serve the people while at the same time espousing personal integrity.
Sun Tzu in the book Art of War notes, “If you know yourself, and your enemy, you may win the war. If you know yourself, but you do not know your enemy, you could win or lose the war. If you do not know yourself, and neither do you know your enemy, you will certainly lose the war”.
We know ourselves and the enemy that could minimize the benefits to the Kenyan people. The judiciary has the mandate of ensuring that Justice is not miscarried, aborted or denied; the Bar has the mandate to represent its clients, while the Prosecution has the obligation to ensure speedy prosecution.
The ‘missionaries’ will be adequately aware of what factors guide what situation, and how their level of applicability can be attained for the enjoyment of human rights standards and personal integrity for all. They will advocate for the formation of policies and other measures that gauge standards to achieve the progressive realization of rights guaranteed under the constitution.
With this in mind, the Judiciary should exercise its full right to hear and determine cases, offer advice when dealing with applications for redress of a denial, violation or infringement of, or threat to, a right or fundamental freedom in the Bill of Rights in accordance with the Constitution.
The adoption of such a strategy will undoubtedly, ensure that it is realistically feasible, for the Judiciary to transform its agents into missionaries of justice that the ordinary mwananchi can and will trust.
(The writer is a Judge of the High Court of Kenya)