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Judges vetting Bill set for major changes

NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 15 – The Bill that will guide the vetting of serving judges and magistrates is due to be passed into law on Tuesday, when Parliament goes into the committee of the whole House.

The Bill that proposes the establishment of a nine-member vetting board, three of whom must be lawyers of high repute to undertake the one year vetting process, is however expected to undergo seven key amendments.

Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Mutula Kilonzo has yielded to pressure and offered to delete a controversial clause that had given the President power to nominate persons who have not gone through the vetting process but with justification.

The original Bill had stated: "Nothing under this section shall be construed as precluding the President, in consultation with the Prime Minister, from nominating and forwarding names, other than those submitted by the Public Service Commission, to the National Assembly for consideration and approval."

This clause raised a storm in Parliament during debate last week with Members of Parliament claiming that it undermined the spirit of public participation and merit.

Garsen MP Danson Mungatana has lined up six amendments starting with one that seeks to lock out foreigners from the vetting board. The original Bill had proposed that the board should have three distinguished non-citizens who are either serving or retired judges, each of whom has served as a Chief Justice or judge of a superior court in the Commonwealth.

During debate last week the MP opposed the plan to hire foreigners "to help us to put our house in order" saying Kenyans are capable of doing it.

Mr Mungatana also wants a clause introduced to direct that at least a third of the candidates to be forwarded to the President by the recruiting committee should be of either gender. According to the Bill, the interviewing panel shall recommend to the President three candidates for the post of chairman and 18 others as members.

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The recruiting panel shall comprise officials from the Office of the President, Office of the Prime Minister, Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Office of the Attorney-General and the Ministry of Public Service. Others are the Public Service Commission, the Judicial Service Commission and the Law Society of Kenya,

The Garsen MP further proposes to delete a controversial clause that sets a judge\’s temperament as a basis for vetting. During debate last week he argued that this could be misused as there is no clear way to measure one\’s personality.

The original Bill had listed possession of compassion and humility, history of courtesy and civility in dealing with others, ability to maintain composure under stress and ability to control anger and maintain calmness and order as ways to measure this.

Mr Mungatana also seeks to delete a clause that had guaranteed that judges can have legal representation at the vetting process. He had argued that allowing for legal representation could derail the process as it could open the window for legal battles.

On finances, the MP wants the powers given to the Minister for Finance, in consultation with the committee of the National Assembly to decide this withdrawn since the Salaries and Remuneration Commission will be in charge of all matters regarding to salaries in the country.

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