William Ruto's warning shot on rule of law as 6 judges sworn-in

President William Ruto addresses judges and judiciary staff at State House, Nairobi. [David Gichuru, Standard]

President William Ruto fired the first warning against Executive impunity yesterday, vowing to lead from the front in upholding the rule of law.

The swearing-in of six judges rejected by his predecessor, President Uhuru Kenyatta, was staged to underscore a break with the past, with former Chief Justice David Maraga, who oversaw their recruitment, in attendance.

After waiting in the cold for three years, justices Weldon Korir, Aggrey Muchelule, Joel Ngugi and George Odunga finally took an oath to formally ascend to the Court of Appeal, while Evans Makori and Elizabeth Omange quit the magistracy to become judges of the Environment and Lands Court.

Attorney General Kihara Kariuki, who backed President Kenyatta’s refusal to appoint the judges, attended the event. Chief Justice Martha Koome, Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu and Court of Appeal President Daniel Musinga were also in attendance. 

The judges took turns to swear that they would dispense justice impartially and defend the Constitution.

President Ruto apologised to the judges for the long wait and warned that it will not be business as usual in regard to defying judicial pronouncements.

The six had been part of a group of 41 judicial officers Uhuru had refused to appoint, citing adverse intelligence reports.

“We must deal firmly and decisively with impunity. Let me say this for the record: Kenya can only become much better with the rule of law. Any other route can only lead us to anarchy,” Ruto said, before sharing an analogy from a book by George Orwell on equality.

“There can never be a case of the Animal Farm where there are people more equal than others. We are all equal before the law. If the rule of the law is our benchmark, we can only succeed.”

Ruto said that despite being the President, he was limited by the law, and he would respect those limitations. All other arms of government must live within the bounds of their legal mandates, he warned.

“Let me repeat, again. It is the rule of law, not the rule of man. That is the bare minimum.”

The matter of the judicial appointments had become a ping-pong battle of sorts. A three-judge bench composed of justices George Dulu, James Wakiaga and William Musyoka found that the six were treated differently from 35 of their colleagues who were appointed and sworn in by Uhuru after Justice Koome took over as Chief Justice last year.

The bench, however, declined to order for their compensation stating that only the six could argue about how much they ought to be paid for being kept in the cold for years.

Former Chief Justice David Maraga with President William Ruto at State House, Nairobi. [File, Standard]

“They were treated differently from the others and this is discrimination. They were not subjected to fair administrative action. Having been nominated, they had legitimate expectations that they should be appointed,” said Justice Dulu.

Faced with Uhuru’s defiance, Justice Maraga had put the matter in the court of public opinion. His successor, Justice Koome, also made it clear that the six should be appointed.

But when she was ordered by the High Court to bypass the Executive, she appealed the decision, arguing that she was being ordered to take up responsibilities bestowed on the President by the Constitution.

Ruto said there was need for the judges to support the Judiciary to dispense justice and make it more accessible.

“As I committed yesterday to supporting the Judiciary to deliver its mandate, it’s important that we have an independent Judiciary. That’s why when the Judiciary Fund was finally launched this year, June 1, it was not just a celebration by the Judiciary but also for Kenyans. That way, we can have a much more efficient Judiciary and many more cases can be concluded in a timely manner,” he said.

An efficient Judiciary, he added, would help the country unlock its social and economic potential.

The President said the time taken for corruption, land and commercial cases to be heard had become inordinately long. He asked Kenyans and the Judiciary to support his administration in ensuring that such cases are adjudicated and concluded in a timely manner.

“This will promote Kenya as a country that attracts foreign investors who will have confidence in the country,” he said, adding that his administration would respect the independence of the Judiciary to deliver its mandate, promote dialogue, and to take Kenya to the next level.