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Koome defends decision to meet President Ruto

Wednesday, February 21st, 2024 03:30 | By
President William Ruto with Chief Justice Martha Koome during the third Chief Justice Symposium on Environment in Africa in Nairobi. PHOTO/PCS

Chief Justice Martha Koome has explained why she agreed to meet President William Ruto in the wake of persistent attacks on the Judiciary by the Executive.

Koome was quick to allay fears the meeting did not undermine the independence of the Judiciary.

Speaking during a meeting that brought together all judges and heads of court in Naivasha, Koome defended her decision to meet the President, saying their discussion centred around challenges impeding the administration of justice and did not undermine judicial independence.

Koome has come under fire, from a section of Kenyans led by opposition chief Raila Odinga who accused her of compromising the independence of the Judiciary by agreeing to meet the president.

Speaking in Lamu West constituency last month in the wake of the State House meeting, Raila termed the meeting between Ruto and Koome as an irresponsible move by the latter.

“If there is supposed to be dialogue on governance issues, it should be held in a neutral place. The State House is the seat of the Executive. This (meeting) means that the Judiciary is being compromised by the Executive. The Judiciary is being held hostage by the Executive,” Raila stated.

According to the opposition chief, through such, the country is falling to the era of dictatorship, which was led by former President Moi.

“We have seen this before. We saw it happen under the rule of Mzee Moi. We have tried to caution the current Chief Justice not to go to bed with the Executive. This is an unfortunate development. We want to hope that members of the Judiciary are not going to be compromised. We want the judges to remain firm and do their work in accordance with the law,” Raila added.

But while stressing the interdependence of the three arms of government yesterday, Koome maintained she will not tolerate any discussions calculated to dictate how the courts handle cases. “We can engage in constructive conversations that enable the institution to perform its role optimally, while ensuring we do not engage in discussions that dictate how the cases in court should be decided. That must always remain a no-go zone!”

The three-day meeting which kicked off Monday is expected to provide a platform for the judges to carry out an audit of the activities of the Judiciary and identify measures to be put in place to improve performance, enhance accountability and facilitate seamless service delivery.

The meeting, which ends today (Wednesday), comes at a critical moment for the Judiciary, after recent events put the role of judges in the eye of a public storm.

The CJ, however, called for a further review and examination of the manner in which courts handle cases that affect public interest and policy.

She narrowed down the challenge to the timelines for hearing and determining the cases particularly touching on government programmes as hearing dates are often set far off from when the cases were lodged.

“Concerns mainly relate to the timelines for hearing and resolving cases involving time-sensitive government programmes, especially when ex parte orders are issued and the hearing dates are set many months later,” explained Koome.

The CJ, while addressing the Judges, said it was critical to ask whether the courts handle public interest cases in a way that respects judges’ decisional autonomy, while actively managing cases of public interest.

“It is important that we reflect on our rules of procedure, especially the Constitution of Kenya (Protection of Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) Practice and Procedure Rules, 2013 and the Judicial Review Procedure Rules, and whether they facilitate speedy handling of time-sensitive public interest cases,” she remarked.

Koome noted that it was imperative to review the active case management practices to determine how to expedite the disposal of public interest cases.

Unsubstantiated claims

And though there were a myriad of unsubstantiated claims of corruption in the judiciary, Koome said, the Judicial Service Commission was committed to strengthening investigative and complaints resolution processes urging judicial officers and staff to adhere to integrity even as she implored to judges nip the vice in the bud by reporting suspicions to the mandated institutions.

“The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) was mandated to deal with allegations of corruption and the commission remains committed to strengthening investigative and complaints resolution processes,” the CJ stated.

She maintained Heads of Courts have a responsibility to motivate and inspire judges, judicial officers, and staff under their administration to adhere to integrity.

“Where you notice any concerns about possible corruption, you are obliged to bring them to the attention of my office or the JSC,” she directed.

The meeting also addressed efforts the Judiciary was making in enhancing efficiency through leveraging on digitisation.Koome said that 2024 will mark a significant moment for the third arm of government as it prepares for a nationwide rollout of the e-filing initiative.

“This year will see a significant leap in leveraging technology as an enabler for the efficiency of our operations. Our e-filing initiative has progressed significantly, and we are now set for a nationwide rollout across all court stations on March 11, 2024,” she disclosed.

Additionally, the CJ reiterated that the courts will embrace technology to ensure the accurate and prompt transcription of court proceedings with the establishment of a pilot transcription centre.

“To further enhance our operational efficiency and transparency, we are introducing a ‘Tracking Dashboard’. This innovative tool will enable the Judiciary’s leadership and court leaders to monitor court activities and outputs in real-time, providing immediate insights and trend analysis into the performance of our courts and facilitating informed decision-making,” added Koome.

Address discrepancies

She revealed that the introduction of new features, such as the publication of rulings and judgments, along with Automated Daily Court Reporting, would address the discrepancies previously experienced in the Case Tracking System (CTS).

“These enhancements are pivotal in ensuring the reliability of our data, which is indispensable for informed policy-making and tracking the progress of our institutional development efforts,” said Koome.

The Judiciary also intends to utilise technology to ensure accurate and prompt transcription of court proceedings and a further introduction of new features to facilitate publication of rulings and judgments and also automated daily court reporting which would address the discrepancies previously experienced in the case tracking system.

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