A fight between judges and the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) over car grants has been referred to Chief Justice Martha Koome to empanel a bench to determine it.
High Court Judge Lawrence Mugambi ruled that the dispute can only be determined by a bench of three judges since it raises weighty constitutional issues relating to independence of the judiciary and who should determine what benefits judges are entitled to.
“The dispute relates to compensation of judges, which needs to be determined by an uneven number of judges if the standoff threatens judicial independence. They are substantial issues that have not been litigated and need to be settled conclusively,” ruled Mugambi.
Justice Mugambi added that the dispute goes to the core of remuneration, packages and what judges should get to maintain their independence.
According to the judge, the constitutionality of car grants and allowances for judges and whether SRC was justified in suspending the same can only be determined by three judges.
The case was filed by Peter Gachuiri seeking to compel the government to reinstate car grant to judges which was suspended by SRC in 2022.
The dispute dates back to 2011 when the head of civil service issued a circular allowing judges to access car grants of between Sh5 million to Sh10 million.
But SRC determined that the allowance was illegal and in 2021 wrote to the head of public service who subsequently communicated to Chief Registrar of the Judiciary that SRC had terminated the benefit from July 2022.
Gachuiri argued that the decision by SRC to withdraw car grant allowances for judges is illegal and unconstitutional since it affects their work in instances where the official cars are broken down.
SRC in its response accused judges of being selfish by demanding a car grant of up to Sh10 million since they are already provided with official chauffeured transport at the cost of taxpayers.
“The demand is an express and clear act of constitutional subversion. It adversely impact the affordability and fiscal sustainability of the public wage bill and would result in inequality and disparity in benefits provided to state officers,” said SRC’s chief executive officer Anne Gitau.
According to SRC, judges are demanding too much when they are already enjoying comfortable lifestyle by being entitled to official transport which is chauffeur driven as part of their benefit package and the car grant would amount to double compensation from taxpayers money.
Judges through the Kenya Judges Welfare Association have however supported the petition claiming that the car grant is a necessary benefit to help them in their duties and personal use.
The association’s president, Justice Kossy Bor, in her affidavit swore that it is a facility judges have benefitted from since 2008 and that the decision by SRC scrapping it amounts to discrimination given that other state officers are enjoying the same.
“It is discriminatory against judges given that SRC has recognized existing car grants for members of the legislature, executive, independent offices and commission while purporting to cancel benefits due to judges,” said Bor.
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Justice Mugambi directed that the case be mentioned on November 29.