SECTIONS

Martha Koome: 20 judges to be hired to deal with poll petitions

Chief Justice Martha Koome (left) with National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi in Mombasa County. March 10, 2022. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

Chief Justice Martha Koome has said the Judiciary will hire 20 judges in the next three months to deal with election petitions.

CJ Koome said the Judiciary will expect an increased number of petitions after the August poll.

She addressed parliamentary committees on Budgeting and Appropriation, Justice and Legal Affairs, and Public Accounts in Mombasa yesterday.

The CJ said in 2013 the Judiciary resolved 189 petitions. The number doubled to 388 in 2017.

“Considering the unique nature of the current election cycle where there is the first change-over for governors, the number of petitions is expected to rise,” CJ Koome said.

She said from lessons learnt from previous elections, it is critical that the Judiciary be perceived as a reliable arbiter and inspire confidence in its independence to adjudicate any disputes in accordance with the law.

“This dissuades the candidates and their supporters from resorting to extra-legal means to resolve any contestation they have on the election’s outcome,” CJ Koome said.

The CJ said the Judiciary is understaffed and there is a need to increase the current number of judges from 73 to 200 to serve Sh13 trillion economy of 50 million people.

She said there are 174 judges across the hierarchy of courts, which translates to a ratio of 1:287,000.

Furthermore, CJ Koome said budgetary constraints hurt the implementation of the Election Preparedness Work Plan.

She said funds are needed for training members, equipping offices, developing reference material and manuals, among others.

CJ Koome said there are 123 constituencies without a court and must therefore be served through mobile courts and circuits.

Eight counties have no high courts and seven high courts do not have a judge and also rely on circuits.

One Court of Appeal does not have a sitting judge.

CJ Koome said the Judiciary urgently needs to establish a modern building to house the Supreme Court, a Court of Appeal Mediation Complex, and a world-class judiciary academy.

“These projects will cost an estimated combined budget of Sh14.7 billion to complete. In addition, we need resources to complete 12 stalled projects."

The CJ told members of the Parliamentary committees that the Judiciary is operating on a Sh21.9 billion deficit.

She said in the 2021/22 financial year, the Judiciary was allocated Sh17.1 billion, which represents 0.9 per cent, instead of the 2.5 per cent, of the national budget.

Chief Justice Martha Koome. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

“The best practice in resourcing judiciaries around the world is that this organ of government ought to be allocated at least two per cent of the national budget." 

The CJ said by the end of the 2020/21 financial year, there were 649,112 pending cases, a significant increase from 617,582 cases the previous year.

“We have 75 Judges against the statutory requirement of 200 judges. At the Court of Appeal, we only have 20 judges."

She said the low number of judges has limited courts' capacity to sit in circuits as expected, hampering the expeditious disposal of cases.

The CJ said the workload has resulted in a continually increasing backlog of cases.

“Presently, it takes the Court of Appeal, on average, more than seven years to hear and determine a case."

She urged the MPs to speed the enactment of the Children Bill and Bond Bill as well as the stand-alone National Council on the Administration of Justice.

The CJ also called for the amendment of the Sexual Offence Act and the Criminal Procedure Act.

National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi said MPs should not blame judges for delayed cases after understanding their tribulations of being understaffed and underfunded.

“You cannot claim someone is seeing them on the side yet it is backlog killing them. The ball is in your court," said Muturi, who was the guest speaker.

Budget and Appropriations Committee chairman Kanini Kega urged the National Treasury to facilitate urgent operationalisation of the Judiciary Fund.

Kega urged the Judiciary to also find ways to access resources externally.