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Over 400 judges, magistrates on standby to handle poll petitions

Opposition leader Raila Odinga and Chief Justice David Maraga at the conference/COURTESY

NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 13 – The Judiciary is ready to handle all disputes arising from the forthcoming General Election.

Chief Justice David Maraga has over 400 judges and magistrates have been trained on management of election petitions in readiness for the August 8 polls.

“Over 400 judges and magistrates who are likely to handle election petitions have been trained and all the administrative and logistical arrangements have been put in place,” Maraga said Tuesday.

Speaking during the National Elections Conference in Nairobi, the head of the Judiciary further said that petition rules had already been concluded and will be gazetted shortly to ensure candidates are well versed with the rules of engagement.

“The Elections (Parliamentary and County Elections) Petition Rules have been revised and should be gazetted this week (ending June 17).”

“The Supreme Court (Presidential Election Petition) Rules and the New Court of Appeal (Election Petitions) Rules are already drafted and will be gazetted shortly,” he added.

A total of 14,522 candidates contesting for the 1,888 seats nationwide were cleared by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) during the recently concluded nominations bringing the average number of contestants for each elective seat to about eight.

With this number expected to be higher for other elective seats in various parts of the country, the August 8 contest is expected to be a highly competitive affair with a significant number of election losers likely to launch appeals.

The CJ while giving his remarks specifically narrowed down to the presidential election saying the Supreme Court will be able to discharge its mandate if called upon to do so.

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“My prayer is that none of you comes to the Supreme Court after the elections. The campaigns should be peaceful and the electoral process so credible that the presidential candidates and indeed all Kenyans, are fully satisfied with the results and see no reason to file a petition at the Supreme Court,” Maraga said.

He however regretted that the Judiciary was unable to win a parliamentary approval to extend the time limit for the hearing of presidential petitions saying such an extension would help the Supreme Court discharge its mandate in a more convenient manner.

“We find that we are severely constrained by the 14-day limit set by the Constitution for hearing and disposing a Presidential Petition. In July 2016, I led the Judicial Committee on Elections in making a presentation to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on IEBC Reforms recommending that this period be extended to 30 days. This proposal was, however, not accepted,” Maraga noted.

He called upon candidates who may be compelled to file a petition before the Supreme Court to ensure filling of requisite evidence in time so as to maximise of the strict timelines of hearing the petition should such arise.

“Taking into account the time allowed to the respondents to respond to the petition, we still have only six days to hear and determine the Petition. There is only so much we can squeeze into this period.”

Questions have been cast on the ability of the body tasked with interpreting the law to deal with election disputes in a timely manner as a number of disputes arising from the recently concluded party primaries are yet to be resolved.

Out of 104 appeals filed before the High Court and 19 in the Court of Appeal as a result of 305 cases received and determined by the Political Parties Disputes Tribunal, only six have been determined.

With the possibility of a number of appeals at the Court of Appeal ending up at the Supreme Court, anxiety has been ripe over the possibility of late rulings by the courts making it impossible for IEBC to comply.

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