Koome insists courts will not be pushed to issue favourable rulings

Chief Justice Martha Koome. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Top judicial officers will for the next three days hold a closed-door meeting to discuss judges' independence and performance improvement.

During the opening ceremony on Monday, Chief Justice Martha Koome said that although the Judiciary was willing to dialogue with other arms of government, Judges and magistrates will not be pushed to give favourable judgments to government.

“We can engage in constructive conversations that enable the institution to perform its role optimally while ensuring that we do not engage in discussions that dictate how the cases in court should be decided. That must always remain a no-go zone," said Justice Koome.

The meeting comes against the backdrop of a stalemate between the Executive and Judiciary over some decisions against Kenya Kwanza administration policies.

President William Ruto has accused the Judiciary of derailing Kenya Kwanza government agenda through halting key policies.

The president for instance has threatened to ignore court orders suspending the controversial housing levy, which judges found was discriminatory.

According to Ruto, in the quest to uphold constitutionalism, exercise institutional independence, and protect people’s rights, caution must be taken not to deny the very people legitimate opportunities like owning homes or accessing healthcare.

“This is what happens when a public servant, enjoying a house mortgage at a three per cent interest rate, makes decisions that frustrate the housing programme, robbing millions of youth of employment prospects and denying millions of Kenyans the chance to own a home like them,” he said.

Kiambu Senator Karungo Thang’wa had suggested that they would initiate laws to have a court specifically set up  to deal with government policies.

Following a meeting at the State House, CJ Koome’s push to have cases involving government policies expedited appears to lift the veil on the discussions with the president.

She intimated that the issue surrounding court orders is that it tend to freeze time in cases that revolve around time-sensitive programmes.

“Concerns mainly relate to the timelines for hearing and resolving cases involving time-sensitive government programmes, especially when ex-parte orders are issued and the hearing dates are set many months later,” said Koome.

She said that courts will enhance technology use in proceedings to ensure efficiency. This, the CJ noted will include a platform to monitor cases and give data promptly.

Koome also asserted that court heads should be the first to report graft issues in their stations. She told judges attending the meeting that the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) was mandated to deal with allegations of corruption.

“Where you notice any concerns about possible corruption, you are obliged to bring them to the attention of my office or the JSC,” she said.

The President has repeatedly insisted that there were judicial officers who were keen to frustrate his projects. He claimed that graft was central to it.

In the recent past, the Judiciary has boldly ruled against some of Ruto's policies. The High Court on November 28, 2023, declared the 1.5 per cent housing levy unconstitutional, throwing into disarray, Ruto’s affordable housing programme.

"The introduction of the housing levy is discriminatory, irrational, and arbitrary and is in violation of the Constitution," Justices David Majanja, Christine Meoli and Lawrence Mugambi ruled.

Upon appeal, Justices Lydia Achode, John Mativo and Paul Gachoka, stated that they would not allow the government to continue with the deductions since the levy had been condemned by the High Court.

Another court had on November 27, 2023, issued conservatory orders against the implementation of three Health Acts pending the determination of a petition on February 7, 2024.

Justice Chacha Mwita said he was satisfied that the petition filed by Joseph Aura raises important constitutional and legal questions that deserve urgent and serious consideration.

The Court of Appeal lifted orders that were issued by the High Court suspending the implementation of the Social Health Insurance Act which is set to replace the NHIF Act.

In their verdict, Justices Patrick Kiage, Pauline Nyamweya and Grace Ngenye ruled that owing to the suspension of the roll-out of the new health fund, there is "a real and present danger to the health rights of countless citizens who are not parties to the litigation pending before our courts."