NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 20 — Senior Counsel Fred Ngatia on Tuesday allayed fears his past attorney-client relationship with President Uhuru Kenyatta could impair his ability to act independently as Chief Justice and judge of the Supreme Court should his candidature sail through.
Ngatia who represented President Kenyatta in the 2013 and 2017 presidential election petitions downplayed the perception held by a section of Kenyans that he would be a biased Chief Justice owing to his past association with the Head of State.
“As soon as the brief was over, I went back to my private practice and that relationship of me acting for the president never continued. That is why my name has never been lined up for conferment of chairmanships or directorship of state co-operations. The President has at no time tried to interfere or influence me in any work that I have done,” he told the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) conducting interviews for the position of Chief Justice.
While responding to the issue which was raised by JSC Commissioner lawyer Macharia Njeru, the 65-year-old lawyer said he would be a straightforward Chief Justice who would not tolerate favouritism in his execution of his duties.
“As much as I am Kenyan, please let me judged on that basis. Do not discriminate me because of any client that I have acted for because in my career I have acted for the high, poor and for those who are in terminal conditions. So please let me be judged for who I am,” he said.
JSC Commissioner Justice David Majanja pressed further on the issue but Ngatia was categorical that he had no regrets leading President Kenyatta’s legal team.
He pointed out that “it is a mark of honour for a President to give a citizen particularly one who is not part of the government some work to do” emphasising that in no way should that privilege be used against that system for any advancement in their career.
Ngatia voiced support for summary decisions within 14-day Supreme Court timeline for presidential election petitions.
Ngatia who cut an image of a well composed candidate told the JSC panel chaired by Professor Olive Mugenda that being one of the most experienced lawyers in the country and having virtually appeared in every court in the country makes him the most suitable candidate for the position of Chief Justice.
His experience adding up to an aggregate of 41 years, Ngatia said over the years, he has been a consumer of the legal workings and that he has what it takes to lead the apex court.
“I have been to all the courts in this republic, I have that eye that no other would have. I do believe that I do have the practitioners’ eye that can be able to see the real weaknesses and the perceived weaknesses in the Judiciary system,” he said.
The holder of two masters’ degrees noted that he will come up with a transformational agenda in the Judiciary that will heavily focus on expeditiously disposing cases, a departure from his predecessors Justices Willy Mutunga and David Maraga who focussed on hiring of more judges and building of more courts.
“I will be the Chief Justice that will end the backlog and simultaneous have the expeditious disposal of cases not as a theory but as a practical thing. I would wish to see a criminal case start and within six months there is a determination,” he said.
Ngatia cited Singapore where he said the courts there had put systems that ensure are dealth with in an expeditious manner.
The seasoned lawyer pleaded with the panel that Kenya’s new Chief Justice should be selected based on merit and not on perceived favoritism that may be or otherwise be held by the individual nine commissioners.
With the ongoing debate raging on whether the incoming Chief Justice should be an insider or an outsider, Ngatia dismissed the debate emphasizing that the candidate who would emerge best after all matters considered should be the one to be appointed.
On the refusal by the Executive to appoint the 41 judges who were recommended by JSC, Ngatia stated that he would “incorporate all hands-on deck” in ensuring that the judges get to be appointed.
Ngatia affirmed once appointed he will not tolerate corruption in the Judiciary and committed to deal with any rogue elements are tainting the institution’s image.
“I will inculcate the values of ethics at the Judiciary,” he said.
Ngatia was admitted to the bar in 1980, a year after he graduated with a Bachelor of Law from the University of Nairobi.
He started his career as a State Counsel at the Attorney General’s office in 1980 but resigned after seven years to start practising private law.
Ngatia was a partner at Kagia and Ngatia Advocates but broke away in 1996 to start Ngatia and Associates, a firm where he is the sole proprietor to date.