Uproar as JSC holds closed door interviews for judges

The Judicial Service Commission during yesterday's interviews for Appeal Court Judges. [David Gichuru, Standard]
Journalists were yesterday barred from covering interviews for Court of Appeal judges.

Four judges – Abida Ali Aroni, Aggrey Muchelule, Mumbi Ngugi and Mbogoli Msagha appeared for interviews to fill vacant positions in the appellate court. Thirty five candidates are lined up for interviews which will end on July 1.

But in a change of norm where the interviews were conducted in front of press cameras, Judicial Service Commission (JSC) chair Chief Justice David Maraga directed that the media could only take pictures at the beginning of the sessions and be locked out from the rest of the proceedings.

“We have allowed you in because we have started the process but after this we will not allow,” Justice Maraga told journalists shortly before the interviews began.

Past interviews

In the past, interviews for envoys, Cabinet secretaries, heads of the police and judges were beamed live in line with the constitutional requirement for public scrutiny, transparency and accountability.

But the Judiciary defended the decision to bar live coverage, citing the small space at the Reinsurance Plaza where JSC is housed.

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“Owing to the limited boardroom space, live coverage will not be permissible. The media may however take photos at the beginning of every interview,” a statement sent to the media houses read in part.

Pressed on why JSC decided to keep the interviews private, Judiciary officials said they were following Maraga’s instructions.

“We are just following instructions. He said the media will not be allowed in except for the photographs taken before the session starts,” an employee who sought anonymity told The Standard.

Activist Okiya Omtatah complained the closed-door interviews would be in breach of Kenyans’ right to information and accountability.

“This is outright wrong. Transparency is a national value under Article 10 of the Constitution. This cannot be set aside,” said Okiya.

Senior Counsel Ahmednasir Abdullahi, a former JSC commissioner, said the conduct of the interviews was illegal.

“The interviews must be transparent, open and in public. That they are now doing it in an opaque and closed-door forum, invalidates the entire process. It’s illegal,” he said.

Constitutional lawyer Waikwa Wanyoike wondered why JSC did not hire bigger space in another building or take up a room at the Supreme Court building or at Milimani Law Courts to allow the public and journalists to follow the interviews.

“JSC has enough resources to procure ideal space that facilitates media and public interested in the process. It is imprudent for JSC to be opaque on such an important process,” he said.

Hostile decision

Lawyer Shadrack Wambui said JSC’s decision was hostile to governance and accountability.

“The commissioners should ask themselves whether the secrecy of the interviews promotes public confidence. One can safely say that the commission is set to defeat transparency and inclusivity of Kenyans as a basic right in governance,” he said.

Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata said there was need for the public to know the views of the judges being interviewed and that private interviews violated the constitutional right to information.

“We need to know those judge’s jurisprudence particularly on such subjects as homosexuality, abortion, power of the High Court to overturn laws,” he said.

On May 22, the Kenya Judges and Magistrates Association, in a letter to Maraga, protested against what it described as “public lynching” of its members.

“It is particularly dire in the case of judges and magistrates whose names appear in the print and electronic media whenever complaints are leveled against them,” the association said.

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Judges InterviewsAbida Ali AroniAggrey MucheluleMumbi NgugiMbogoli MsaghaChief Justice David MaragaJSC