A judge has suggested that the distribution of inheritance in polygamous marriages should not be equal but based on property acquired at the time each wife was married.
Employment and Labour Relations Court Judge Maureen Onyango was yesterday asked whether she would order a recently married widow to get an equal share of inheritance with her co-widow who had been married for more years.
Justice Onyango said her verdict would be that the younger widow would only get property acquired from the time she got married.
The question was posed by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) during interviews to fill 11 Appeal Court judge positions.
“A man has two wives and he dies. He has one wife who has been living with him for many years. Then just before he died, he met a young lady. In terms of succession law, do you believe the two women are entitled to an equal share of the deceased’s property because succession law says all of them should be treated equally?” JSC Commissioner David Majanja asked.
Justice Onyango replied, “Ah no. The first wife will have contributed much more to the estate so if we are sharing the property between the two wives, we should share only the property acquired when the second wife was married.”
In her submission to the JSC, the judge stated that she had vast knowledge and experience on employment matters after having worked with the Federation of Kenya Employers and now in the Labour Court.
“I meet the minimum qualifications and my background in labour is not well represented in the Appeal Court. I will be adding in the wealth of knowledge in the Court of Appeal and I have sufficient knowledge on all issues that might come up for appeal,” said Justice Onyango.
The judge was taken to task following an outcry by employers on the reinstatement of staff to work by the court she now heads.
“Where do you get jurisdiction to constantly reinstate county and national government employees?” asked commissioner Mohamed Warsame, adding that his investigation revealed that the Appeal Court overturned 80 per cent of Labour Court cases.
But Onyango said she had reinstated only a few employees.
“I would not agree that we constantly reinstate employees. Very few have been reinstated. The law we apply says we can reinstate but under special circumstances,” she replied.
Onyango said there was concern over Appeal Court judgments relating to labour cases. In one case, she said, the Appeal Court interfered with an appellant’s compensation but did not justify the reduction.
The judge also told the JSC that her court had managed to maintain peace in the labour sector.
Lawyer Elijah Njagi Ireri was also interviewed for one of the positions up for grabs.
When Mr Njagi took his seat to face his interviewers, he sometimes forgot to project his voice, resulting in mumbled answers that forced the panel to remind him to speak up because the interview was being recorded.
Chief Justice: Mr Ireri, is that the best you can do?
Mr Ireri: I will try to be louder.
The lawyer told the commissioners that he was a person of good temperament who would contribute to the development of the law because he could think outside the box.
The lawyer was grilled about his integrity with the JSC focusing on four complaints filed against him before the advocates’ disciplinary committee.
Ireri replied that if he was to rank his integrity, he would score nine out of 10.
“I have no integrity issue I know of. I think I have not been asked to record a statement,” he said.
The panel, however, reminded him that in 2007, he was admonished on two occasions and fined Sh72,000 and Sh10,000 respectively; and two cases in 2011 and 2012 that he had to pay under supervision.
He was pressed on why he did not disclose that he had complaints filed against him when he applied for the job.
“I am really surprised about this list. In fact, I do now want too… I am indeed very surprised because even the members listed here… but I am not doubting this commission. What is put herein is not in my knowledge,” he mumbled.
Justice Maraga: Mr Ireri, we still have a problem hearing you.
Ireri: I am surprised at some funny information. With due respect, I have respect for this commission but let us leave it at that. I have led a very clean public and private life.
Justices Boaz Alao and Weldon Korir had been interviewed before the media were allowed to cover proceedings.
Today, justices George Odunga, Stephen Radido and John Mutungi, and lawyer Kariuki Mwangi will be interviewed.
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