Closed-door interviews of judges send wrong signals

Interviews for judges started yesterday at the Re-Insurance Plaza in Nairobi. Yet in a deviation from the norm, the interviews will be conducted in-camera following a directive by Chief Justice David Maraga who also chairs the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

Since the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution, applicants and nominees to State and public offices routinely undergo vetting in the full view of the public. Drafters of the law understood the need for transparency and accountability in making appointments to public offices.

After all, the public picks the tabs and needs to know whether it is getting value for its money; especially in a society defined by ingrained corruption in virtually all spheres of life. 

It must be clear to all that an exercise carried out in public view and which conforms to set standards does not attract misgivings, yet that seems to be what JSC is trying to court with the closed-door interviews.

At a time that trust in our judicial system is on the wane, winning back that trust should have been Mr Maraga’s top priority. A number of judges face accusations that will bring them face to face with tribunals. On the other hand, the manner in which some judges have handled corruption cases has raised a number of eyebrows. That alone should have impressed upon Maraga the need for transparency in picking the judges.

By barring members of the Fourth Estate from covering the proceedings live and going on to promise “we will adhere with what the Constitution says”, Maraga was speaking from both sides of the mouth. Indeed, that sends out the wrong signal.

We are aware that Kenya Judges and Magistrates Association last month protested to Maraga over what it termed “public lynching” of its members whose names appear in the print and electronic media whenever complaints are levelled against them. While this could be a genuine concern which warrants action, we can only hope that it is not what motivated the CJ’s decision.

Holders of the office of judge must be clean individuals able to command public respect and trust. They must not only meet set criteria, the public must be allowed to make an assessment of them as arbiters of last resort.

The contention that journalists cannot be allowed into the interview room because of cramped space holds no water. There is no lack of adequate, open spaces to conduct the interviews. The question: Is there anything that JSC seeks to hide from a public entitled to watch interviews to determine suitability of candidates?

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Re-Insurance PlazaChief Justice David MaragaJudicial Service CommissionJudges Interview