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We want to vet magistrates, says CJ

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 24 – Chief Justice Willy Mutunga has now revealed that the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) recommended to be involved in vetting magistrates, a move that has been condemned by, among others, the Law Society of Kenya.

Dr Mutunga who was fielding questions from journalists said the JSC, of which he is chairman, has the capacity to vet the over 400 magistrates.

“We were consulted on the said amendment and we approved it, because we have the capacity, we have the information to vet the magistrates and also because we want an end to this vetting. It’s making it difficult for us to carry out all the reforms we need because of all the uncertainty and despondency that is experienced among magistrates,” the CJ said.

Recent amendments to the Vetting of Judges and Magistrates Act, have now restricted the Sharad Rao-led Vetting Board to only deal with High Court judges, while the magistrates across the country are to be vetted by the Judicial Service Commission.

The LSK has strongly condemned the move, saying the Constitution does not bestow vetting powers on the JSC.

But the Chief Justice says the JSC will only vet the suitability of magistrates, whose professionalism and integrity has been questioned.

“As JSC we know who we should be vetting. There are magistrates who are men and women of integrity and we have the information. We could have vetted judges as well but it was thought wise to have a board. But that doesn’t mean that we didn’t have the capacity,” he said.

Dr Mutunga added; “In fact when we interview people for judgeships, it’s a full blown vetting in terms of integrity issues, payment of taxes and loans – everything! So it is very comprehensive.”

The Law Society of Kenya on Friday opposed the move by Parliament to amend the legislation on the vetting of Judges and Magistrates. The body said the changes effected into the Vetting Act are unconstitutional and must be quashed.

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Chairman Eric Mutua argued the procedure and mechanism for vetting was established through the Vetting Board. He cited that Article 172 of the Constitution says that one of the functions of JSC is to recommend to the President persons for appointment.

The LSK said that it was unacceptable for the Judicial Service Commission to vet magistrates only as the judges are scrutinised by the Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board.

“The Constitution does not envisage that the JSC should undertake the vetting exercise otherwise it should have been expressly stated in Section 23 of The Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. The said amendment is therefore unconstitutional,” LSK chairman Eric Mutua said.

LSK announced that they would petition the President not to assent to other changes made to the Elections Act and the Political Parties Act.

The Law Society of Kenya is a member of the Judicial Service Commission, with two representatives in the constitutional body.

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