, NAIROBI, Kenya Feb 8 – Chief Justice Willy Mutunga is urging lawyers in Bungoma to resume work and remain patient as the Judiciary works out modalities of sending them an additional judge.
Mutunga said it is unfortunate that the lawyers had continued to paralyse operations at the Bungoma Law Courts as they demand an additional judge, despite his pleas for their patience..
“As the Chief Justice, I have no reason whatsoever to deny the people of Bungoma County, or any Kenyan for that matter, their access to justice,” the CJ said in a statement. “Indeed, I have an obligation to protect this right. I promise that as soon as we recruit new judges I will definitely post one to Bungoma.”
Lawyers in Bungoma have been on strike since November last year and have vowed they will not resume duties until a new judge is posted there.
“These facts having been made clear to the Bungoma lawyers. It is grossly irresponsible to paralyse and commandeer the operations of the High Court and the Magistracy in Bungoma,” the CJ said in a statement issued Wednesday.
He wants the Bungoma lawyers to employ patience like their counterparts and members of the public in other stations countrywide.
“The patience, understanding and maturity that other stations and divisions which are similarly operating without enough judicial staff have exhibited, is what is required at this time when the Judiciary is undergoing a difficult but necessary transformation after years of neglect and emasculation,” he said.
The lawyers have insisted they will not allow cases to be heard in Bungoma until they get a new High Court judge.
Mutunga said it is not only Bungoma that is in dire need of more judges because the problem is affecting stations across the country.
“The lawyers in Bungoma have not even allowed one of the hard working judges to even hear cases! They have defied advice of their national body that has decried some of the illegal activities pertaining to the strike,” the CJ said. “Both the Judiciary Service Commission (JSC) and I are fully seized of this matter.”
In November last year, the lawyers held talks with the CJ who pleaded with them not to paralyse the court operations but they ignored his pleas.
“After our deliberations, I made it clear that they will get another judge the moment we recruited another batch of High Court judges. I promised I would post a Chief Magistrate to their station which I did,” he said.
The Chief Justice said the shortage of judges was occasioned by the elevation of seven High Court judges to the Court of Appeal and the death of a judge who was heading the Kitale station. “In short there are no more High Court judges to deploy,” the CJ said.
To remedy the situation, the CJ said, two options are being considered.
“We have initiated amendments to the Judicature Act to increase the number of judges to 150. These proposals have been approved by the cabinet and are now before Parliament. We hope that these amendments will soon be passed, now that Parliament has been recalled,” the CJ said. “We also considered the possibility of posting a Commissioner of Assize to Bungoma and other stations that are in need of extra judges.”
He said the idea did not materialise as the Judicial Service Commission decreed that the Judiciary should advertise for new positions for judges of the High Court.