NAIROBI, Kenya, June 3 – The International Commission of Jurists Kenya and Linda Katiba have condemned President Uhuru Kenyatta’s remarks on the Judiciary during the Madaraka Day celebrations on Tuesday terming them a deliberate move to intimidate judicial officers including Chief Justice Martha Koome.
Through a statement released on Thursday, ICJ Kenya Chairperson Kelvin Mogeni said Kenyatta’s remarks are a threat to judicial independence and are an attempt to threaten and diminish the status of the judicial arm of government.
“We posit that the statements were a direct affront on judicial independence and were aimed at threatening and diminishing the status of the Judiciary. We wish to state that the remarks by the President and the Head of State were derogatory, given this was a national event,” he said.
Linda Katiba in its part noted Kenyatta’s pattern of attacking judges and the courts for rulings he disagrees with is tantamount to a “declaration of political anarchy by the President.”
“Whatever one thinks about the merits of an issue before a court, there is no place for threats, whether real or allegorical. Personal attacks on judges by any elected officials, including the President, are simply inappropriate and unacceptable. Such comments challenge the reputation of the third, co-equal branch of state government; the independence of the judiciary; and the personal safety of judicial officers,” the pro-democracy lobby group said.
ICJ urged the President to take a leadership role and shun the narrative of making personal and vindictive remarks which are aimed at undermining judicial authority.
“ICJ Kenya urges the President to exercise restraint and steer the narrative clear from personal and vindictive attacks aimed at discrediting the role of the Judiciary in our democracy and judges’ decisional independence, especially when the matter is now before the Court of Appeal,” he added.
Linda Katiba further noted that continued criticism of judges’ rulings ‘crosses the line into personal attacks or intimidation, public respect for the judicial system is undermined, creating risk to constitutional bedrock and the preservation of liberty.”
The organisation noted that Kenyatta risks creating a political perception that the judicial system is serving a political or another purposes rather than the fair administration of justice.
ICJ, on its part, instead asked the president to lodge any complaint against any judicial officer through the right channel if he feels aggrieved by the high court ruling that nullified the Building Bridges Initiative constitution amendment process.
In his speech during the Madaraka Day celebrations held in Kisumu, President Kenyatta termed the growing independence of courts as a threat to the nation’s stability saying the Judiciary “stretched our democratic boundaries to the limit.”
“It has bent the will of the people, but it has not broken it,” President Kenyatta remarked while making references to two landmark rulings; the September 2017 Supreme Court ruling nullifying his election, and the May 13, 2021, judgment by the Constitutional Court declaring the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) Constitution Amendment Bill unlawful.
He was reacting to a High Court ruling that invalidated the BBI ruling saying he(Kenyatta) had violated the Constitution, particularly Chapter 6, when he initiated the process following his handshake with former Prime minister Raila Odinga with whom he promoted the process.
“The constitutional amendment Bill is an initiative of the president and the law is clear that the president does not have the constitutional mandate to initiate any constitutional changes through popular initiative,” the judges Joel Ngugi, George Odunga, Jairus Ngaah, Teresia Matheka and Chacha Mwita said in a unanimous ruling delivered on Thursday night.
As Head of State, the President said he will only listen to the voice of the masses that stand to benefit from envisaged changes to the country’s Constitution enacted in 2010.