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Keep your opinions to yourselves, Supreme Court warns in presidential poll case

Five of the seven judges of the Supreme Court during a special sitting/COURTESY

NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 23 – In its first orders since becoming seized of Raila Odinga’s presidential election petition, the Supreme Court on Wednesday cautioned parties and their supporters against publicly discussing the case.

The seven-judge bench found it necessary to issue the prohibitory orders hours after petitioners appeared to instruct the judges on how to decide the matter and after supporters of President Uhuru Kenyatta took to opining on the strength of the petition.

“The Supreme Court stands together with the people of Kenya, in recognising the vital importance of arriving at a properly-considered determination of the petition. The public should, therefore, avoid making statements that are intended to direct the court on the conduct of the petition.”

It therefore instructed the parties’ advocates to advise their clients accordingly in addition, to delivering a further warning to the public against profiling judges with a view of seeking to predict which side of the argument they are likely to take.

“It is the responsibility of the advocates on record to advise their clients in this petition, about the consequences of conduct or statements that can undermine the authority of this court.”

Their warning came hours after the petitioner’s National Super Alliance demanded that each of the seven members of the bench write out a separate ruling and that the delivery does not resemble the “two-minute” version of 2013.

It also came as several Jubilee Party members with backgrounds in law delivered commentary on the merits of the petition.

“As a teacher of law I saw 25,000 pages of hollow and deceptive stories. Lots of form without substance,” Elgeyo Marakwet Senator-elect Kipchumba Murkomen commented via his Twitter account.

In the run-up to the August 8 General Election, the Judiciary came under a political onslaught much to the distress of international observers.

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“There is need for all the parties contesting the elections to respect the institutions because if there are any disputes in the end of the elections, they are going to be resolved by these state institutions,” the head of the African Union Election Observer Mission Thabo Mbeki warned soon after President Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto and a handful of Jubilee legislators led by their leader in the National Assembly, Aden Duale, publicly ‘called out’ the Judiciary and Chief Justice David Maraga.

READ: It is unwise to disrespect the Judiciary, former SA President Mbeki advises

Mbeki wasn’t the only one who took exception to the statements directed at the judiciary from both sides of the political divide with the Judicial Service Commission coming out to draw a line in sand.

“We note with concern the audacity of the party (Jubilee) as it seeks to select who hears the cases it files in court. The emerging culture of public lynching of judges and judicial officers by the political class is a vile affront to the rule of law and must be fiercely resisted.”

READ: CJ Maraga takes stand against ‘vile public lynching’ of judges

The judge on the receiving end of said lynching in this instance was George Odunga after a three-judge High Court bench he was a part of, directed the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission to retender for the August 8 presidential ballots.

“The Chief Justice, and Justice Odunga, and indeed every Kenyan of sound mind, including a 4-year-old knows too well that someone can’t adjudicate a case on a matter that the person has interest,” Duale said at the time.

In an interview with Capital FM News just before the elections, President Kenyatta expressed no remorse for publicly taking issue with the judgement in question or for putting Maraga and the rest of that arm of government on notice that while it respected them, the Executive wasn’t afraid to publicly call their more “dubious” judgements into question.

“I have no fear in repeating that some of the judgements that have been made have not been correct judgements and after we have appealed in some of these instances we have been proved right and all I ask from the Judiciary is the recognition that you must be impartial in making your judgements, your judgements cannot and should not be influenced by the politics of the day.”

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“And we will continue to insist, where we think a judgement has not been fair, we will continue to raise the alarm. Independence doesn’t mean that others will just stand by and watch you do the wrong thing.”

Maraga’s counter was that a verbal assault on the judiciary would serve no purpose, except to humiliate, with the only real means of having a judgement re-examined being through the appellate process.

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