Chief Justice David Maraga came under intense public pressure to rein in judicial officers seen as stumbling blocks in the fight against corruption. Speaker after speaker lamented that the courts are slapping suspects on the wrist with minimal bails, issuing anticipatory arrests orders and giving injunctions arbitrarily.
But an angry Maraga told critics off, saying the courts will act independently and abide by the rule of law. The CJ defended the Judiciary saying the accusations are ill intended as their hands were tied by the Constitution, a debilitating budget and incompetent prosecutions. However, President Uhuru Kenyatta laughed off the many excuses telling the CJ to put his house in order if he is serious about the war on corruption or someone will do it for him.
The multi-sectoral conference against corruption, which brought public and private sector institutions together at the Bomas of Kenya, came to a close Friday as the President, ODM leader Raila Odinga and other speakers gave instances where the courts have been seen to have dropped the ball.
According to President Kenyatta, the country almost lost Sh7 billion in the Mwea irrigation scheme project after the courts issued injunctions against it. The project, which was due to be sponsored by the Japanese government, dragged on for more than 10 years.
The President and the ODM leader also wondered why individuals who had been given favourable orders by the Kenyan courts were remanded in the US for more than two years as the matter progressed in court.
“Why are suspects found guilty in the US, the New Jersey … yet they cannot be convicted here? The orders have made the work of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) very difficult,” said Mr Odinga.
“We have a president of South Korea, who was impeached by parliament and sentenced to 25 years in jail by the courts in that country. Can that happen here in Kenya?” the ODM leader posed.
However, Justice Maraga defended the Judiciary, saying even the accused have the right to bail as provided for in the Constitution.
He added that convictions are made based on the weight of the evidence provided by the prosecution and not by Friday arrests, constant blame game and bashing of the courts.
“The war against corruption is not going to be won by blame games. The war will be won by the application of the law. If we are given half-baked cases we will dismiss them firmly,” Justice Maraga said. He also accused the DPP of framing cases poorly and failing to provide witness statements on time, denying those accused the ability to defend themselves.
“The Constitution of Kenya guarantees the accused the right to be heard and (to) bail,” he said. The CJ also decried the poor funding of the Judiciary, noting it had delayed the installation of technology in courts that would allow records to be automated.
Mr Odinga agreed the Judiciary is underfunded, saying it was unreasonable for parliament to allocate itself billions of shillings considering it’s a lean staff while the Judiciary was allocated a much smaller budgetary provision.
The Judges have also been accused of taking bribes to influence their rulings, a claim that the CJ said will always remain unresolved unless there is tangible evidence to nail the offending judges.
He asked the public to channel evidence of corruption through the Judicial Service Commission that he chairs, and the Judicial Ombudsman, so that the offending judges could be dealt with.
“This war will also be won through courage and I appeal to the public and anybody else who has information of judges taking bribes to bring it to us so that we can investigate. What we have is people just talking, which is not actionable evidence.”
The CJ also accused lawyers of delaying cases, adding that it was sending a negative signal to the public.
He claimed magistrates hearing corruption cases at Milimani commercial courts have officially complained to his office about a notorious lawyer who is fond of seeking injunctions either because he is handling other cases at the same time, he is unprepared or is not available for hearings.
But Friday, Justice Maraga said that the courts will not wait for those who are not ready.
“Corruption is not going to sit down. It will always fight back vigorously. We have people pretending to be sick to delay cases and interestingly, they get medical reports. We will not wait for lawyers handling many cases — and the accused persons should also hear this,” the CJ said.
The office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP), the attorney general and that of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations have also blamed the Judiciary against the lenient orders.
On Thursday, DPP Noordin Haji lamented how a suspect was granted bail to access his office and within a week, a computer containing incriminating evidence against him went missing.