Lawyers launch do or die battle over key JSC slot

Law Society of Kenya President Allen Gichuhi addresses the media on the position of Law Society of Kenya (LSK) male representative to the Judicial Commission of Kenya (JSC) at his offices in Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]
It is a major contest for five candidates eyeing a position that comes with powers to hire and fire judges in the country.

The position, viewed by some lawyers and politicians as one that plays a major role in the nation’s politics, has seen members of the Law Society of Kenya’s council differ on requirements for candidates to contest the seat.

Prof Tom Ojienda, whose term in the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) ends on April 6, was cleared along with lawyer Gathii Irungu to contest the position of male LSK representative to the commission. Both were cleared minus a tax compliance certificate from the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA).

Irungu, who presented his application late, is said to have failed to attach clearance certificates from KRA, Higher Education Loans Board (Helb), Credit Reference Bureau (CRB), Director of Criminal Investigations (DCI) and Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC).

Lawyers Njeru Macharia, Alex Gatundu and Charles Ongoto who are also eyeing the seat submitted their nomination papers accompanied by the required documents on time.

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However, the council overruled LSK President Allen Gichuhi’s decision to call for an emergency meeting to deliberate on its decision to clear Ojienda and Irungu despite a committee’s report that disqualified them.

2022 elections

The JSC has gone through many challenges in the appointment of commissioners to the current office, a move seen by some politicians and lawyers as preparations for the 2022 General Election.

Former Attorney General Amos Wako, who was a member of the committee of experts that formed the JSC in 2010, said the commission’s original purpose was to play its role effectively in the rule of law and LSK was included as an independent bar and because of its contribution to the rule of justice.

“LSK representatives to JSC are there to ensure justice does not favour the mighty,” said Wako.

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Senior Counsel Pheroze Nowrojee said troubles in the commission started four to five years ago when people within and outside the commission introduced politics and ambitions in the institution.

“Some politicians and ambitious lawyers started controversies in JSC when they realised it is able to control who is to be appointed the CJ, deputy CJ, Supreme Court judge and other important appointments within the Judiciary,” he said.

Homa Bay Town MP Peter Kaluma said the JSC’s critical role of appointing and disciplining judges and other judicial officers attracts political interests, adding that there is a need for commissioners appointed to serve the interests of LSK.

“The two slots (one for male and the other for female) were granted to LSK as a body in charge of regulating the profession by law. Those elected should serve the members’ interests,” said Kaluma.

In the current wrangles within the LSK, members are out to vote in May for a male candidate who will play a key role in the replacement of two Supreme Court judges who retire next year and that of Chief Justice David Maraga in 2021 when they turn 70.

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They are to retire ahead of the 2022 General Election and it is whoever takes over from them that will be in a bench that will decide on the presidential petition, if any.

For instance, the Supreme Court presided over by former CJ Willy Mutunga upheld the election of President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2013.

And when Mutunga’s term ended, the JSC forwarded Maraga’s name to the President after he emerged top in the interviews.

He was appointed CJ and presided over the court that nullified Uhuru’s election in the August 2017 poll.

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Law Society of KenyaJudicial Service Commission