South African CJ urges Kenyan judges to be diligent, treat litigants fairly

August 20, 2018 1:13 pm
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“It shouldn’t matter who appears before you, equality before the law is a critical requirement for true judgeship,” he said/COURTESY

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 20 – Visiting South African Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng has challenged Kenyan judges to maintain judicial independence and fidelity to the Constitution and the laws of the country.

Mogoeng who delivered the keynote address at the opening of this year’s Annual Judges’ Colloquium in Mombasa Monday, said judges must treat all litigants equally without according undue privileges to the high and mighty.

“It shouldn’t matter who appears before you, equality before the law is a critical requirement for true judgeship,” he said.

“You judge not for man – you judge for God. You judge not for the high and mighty, you judge not for your president or parliamentarian – you judge for the people. Respect the flag!” Mogoeng urged.

The visiting South African Chief Justice also asked judges attending the colloquium to maintain high standards of diligence and conciseness.

“Some in the Judiciary are thoroughly incompetent. Half past four o’clock you’re going home all the time. It ought to be a misconduct for a judge to be found lazy! It must be misconduct!” he implored.

Speaking when he formally opened the colloquium, Kenya’s Chief Justice David Maraga emphasised the need for the delivery of justice without undue delays and regard for the social status of litigants.

“Article 159 of the Constitution specifically provides for the delivery of justice without undue regard to technicalities and to all irrespective of their status,” he stressed.

Maraga equally emphasised the need to have matters in court concluded in a timely manner while asking judges to make a conscious effort to tame case backlogs.

“Speedy trials are an integral part of the fundamental rights of life and liberty in our Constitution as also enshrined in Article 26 and in the entire Bill of Rights in Chapter 4,” he referred.

On his part, he committed that the Supreme Court bench which he heads will endeavour to have appeals concluded expeditiously even in matters that have no statutory timelines.

The Annual Judges’ Colloquium comes at a time when the High Court is on a month and a half-long recess that begun on August 1.

During the recess expected to run until September 14 judges will prioritize on concluding pending judgments in line with Chief Justice Maraga’s ambition to clear over 60,000 cases that have been in pendency for between five to ten years by the end of the year.

“Sixty-six thousand, two hundred and fourteen cases are aged 5-10 years and we have embarked on an accelerated case clearance programme to conclude all cases that are older than five years by the end of 2018,” Maraga had said in December last year when he released the State of the Judiciary and the Administration of Justice Report (SOJAR) 2016-2017.

According to the annual report, a total of 344,180 cases were filed at different courts nationwide during the reporting period (Financial Year 2016/17), bringing the total caseload to 533,350.

Among issues expected to be canvassed at the second day of the judges’ colloquium on Tuesday include clearing of case backlog.

The High Court currently accounts for the second highest number of unconcluded matters at over 100,000.

According to SOJAR 2016-2017 there were 119,777 pending cases at High Courts in Nairobi, Bungoma, Busia, Embu, Garissa, Homabay, Kakamega, Kericho, Kerugoya, Kisii, Kisumu, Machakos, Malindi, Meru, Mombasa, Murang’a, Nakuru, Nyeri, Trans-Nzoia and Uasin Gishu.

Magistrate Courts accounted for the highest number of backlog which stood at 366,133 at the time of the publication of SOJAR 2016-2017.

The Environment and Land Courts, Employment and Labour Relations Courts, Courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court had twenty-seven, 242, 13,723, 3,387 and 73 pending cases respectively.

Cumulatively, Magistrate Courts and High Courts in Nairobi accounted for 92 per cent of pending cases at 69 and 23 per cent respectively.

To improve efficiency in courts, the judiciary has been implementing court modernization programmes aimed at digitizing documentation of court proceedings.

A Judiciary Financial Management Information System (JFMIS) has also been rolled out which once fully adopted will significantly reduce the time it takes to file and retrieve case files as well as address incidences of missing files.

The Judiciary however faces an uphill talk in maintaining the tempo of its drive towards efficiency with drastic budget cuts threatening to bring to a halt a total of 70 ongoing court modernization and construction projects seen as critical to the success of the Judiciary Transformation Framework (JTF).

According to Maraga, the downward revision of Judiciary funding capped at Sh17.3 billion in the 2018/19 national budgetary policy statement to Sh14.5 billion in the Appropriation Act had left the Judiciary with only Sh50 million in development budget.

The 70 projects to be affected by the slashing of the Judiciary’s funding include 41 government-funded projects and 29 funded by the World Bank.

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