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Judge wants clerks, secretaries paid better

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 10 – High Court judge Professor Jackton Ojwang on Friday said judicial clerks and secretaries were the most vulnerable to corruption in the Judiciary due to poor remuneration.

During his grilling for the post of Judge of the Supreme Court, he told the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) that secretaries and clerks were easily bribed to make files to disappear and even edit files to tamper with evidence for judgements.

"Every judge has a clerk and a secretary. They live in very strange places where they can be approached by anybody. They can be asked to cause a file to disappear," he said.

"They take the files from the magistrates and they edit. There was a magistrate who came and said, \’this is not my handwriting and there were many magistrates who said the judgements were not their handwriting. And you know the clerks are the people who could have been involved."

Prof Ojwang who became a judge of the High Court in 2003 said clerks and secretaries were poorly paid yet they deal with cases involving huge amounts of money which was a big opening for corruption.

He urged the JSC to review their remunerations to empower them to desist from temptations of bribery in the Judiciary.

He however advocated for a stringent mechanism to deal with those found guilty of corruption saying poor remuneration was not an excuse to accepting money in exchange of justice.

The Judge who joined Nairobi University as a law lecturer in 1974 where he spent 27 years also raised concerns over individual corruption by judges or magistrates handling cases involving big money.

He said a close look at some of the judgements made on some cases clearly portrayed that money had changed hands for the ruling to go in some ways.

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But he said corruption in that level was very hi-tech describing \’judges and magistrates as very clever people.\’

"The other corruption is where a judge or a magistrate knows the parties. They know where they can meet, it could be in a hotel and they know what is at stake. They have agreed they will be given something, so that when you look at the judgement, it is raises suspicions," he said. 

He asked the Commission to ensure only people of high integrity are recruited to the Judiciary but at the same time called for discipline of also judges and magistrates found with graft cases.

He further urged them to formulate policies and stipulate clear rules of dealing with corruption and avoiding corruption in the Judiciary.

The judge at the same time said judges and magistrates were also prone to corruption due to the insufficient insurance covers they were given before the Judicial Service Act.

"The health cover… I can tell you it was havoc to many judges including myself, when you go to the hospital you cannot pay.  That was the room for corruption" he said as he answered Commissioner Emily Ominde who had asked him to explain why the Judiciary was believed to be corrupt.

Attorney General Amos Wako who sits on the commissioners\’ panel lauded him for his writings and his academics.

"There is no doubt at all that in terms of legal scholarship, in terms of being a serious legal writer, you rank the best in this country, you have done very well," he said.

Prof Ojwang said he was fit to join the Supreme Court for his well researched judgements apart from his legal education and experience.

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Prof Ojwang has among other associations been with the Commonwealth Research Scholar, Downing College, University of Cambridge in England.

He also got his PhD from the University of Cambridge, England.

Lady Justice Jessie Lesiit who was to be interviewed for the position of a judge to the Supreme Court withdrew her application.

Justice Lesiit becomes the second person who failed to make for the interview after Phoebe Okowa Nyawade on Tuesday.

Lady Justice Violet Mavisi who appeared before the commission was interviewed later on Friday.

The interviews will end on Tuesday next week.

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