Officials of a doctors’ union risk incarceration after a warrant of arrest was issued against them for failing to appear in court.
Lady Justice Hellen Wasilwa issued a warrant of arrest against seven officials of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union (KMPDU) for refusing to appear in court for sentencing after being found guilty of disobeying a court order to end the ongoing strike.
“In their absence, I have no option but to issue a warrant of arrest to be enforced by the officer commanding Kilimani police station,” she ruled.
But the KMPDU officials can avoid arrest if they present themselves in court.
The officials; Samuel Oroko (chairman), Fredrick Oluga (secretary), Titus Ondoro, Allan Ochanji, Hamisi Chibanzi, Daisy Korir and Evelyne Chege could be jailed for up to six months or be fined an amount to be determined by the court.
On December 20, the judge found the officials guilty of contempt of court as they continued with the strike despite being aware of the court order that suspended the industrial action and gave room for negotiations.
KMPDU officials had clearly stated that they would not obey the court order, Wasilwa said, adding that she cannot condone open defiance of court.
The officials’ lawyer said they were unable to honour the summons as they were in a meeting.
Orders stopping the doctors’ strike were issued on December 1 by the Employment and Labour Relations Court, with the judge directing that the dispute be subjected to negotiations to resolve the impasse surrounding the a collective bargaining agreement reached by the doctors’ union and the government in 2013.
The Council of Governors then filed a contempt of court case against the union officials, claiming that despite serving the orders, they refused to call off the strike leading to paralysis and deaths in public hospitals.
Governors want the officials held personally responsible for the strike and be sentenced to six months in jail. And they want doctors compelled to pay damages to injuries caused to thousands of patients and deaths occasioned by their strike.
Court orders exist to protect the rule of law and no individual is above the law to disobey such orders, Wasilwa had ruled.
“It is for every person to obey the orders until they are discharged or the court rules otherwise. The orders are not to protect dignity of the judge issuing them... but to protect the dignity of the court and the rule of law,” she said.
She added that the court would be abdicating its duties if the officials went unpunished yet they were properly served with the orders. The judge directed the case be mentioned on Thursday for further directions.