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Succession battles said to be behind CJ, Shollei war

COUNTIES
By STANDRAD ON SUNDAY REPORTER | September 29th 2013
   Chief Justice Willy Mutunga (second left) when he visited Kisumu courts previously. Trouble in the JSC has been  attributed to succession. [PHOTO: FILE/STANDARD]

By STANDARD ON SUNDAY REPORTER

Succession battles could be the cause of the current crisis in the Judiciary, pitting the Chief Justice Willy Mutunga and Chief Registrar of the Judiciary Mrs Gladys Shollei.

Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, 66, and his Deputy Kalpana Rawal, 67, will be retiring almost at the same time, thus opening the stage for behind-the scenes machinations to succeed them.

Retiremnet ages

The Supreme Court Judges are required by law to retire at 70. Supreme Court Judge Philip Tunoi will retire next year and his replacement could be in contention.

But this battle is not being fought directly in the Supreme Court but elsewhere: at the Judicial Service Commission.  The Commission appoints the Supreme Court judges.

“Whoever controls the JSC effectively controls the Supreme Court and more likely controls the decisions it will make,” said a judge in the Court of Appeal who requested not be named so as to speak freely.

Because of this, the nomination to the JSC is usually a very hotly contested affair that attracts canvassing by the candidates drawn from different institutions.

There are three slots to be filled in the JSC by the end of the year. The Law Society of Kenya will go to polls to choose whether to return their current representative Ahmednassir Abdullahi or replace him.

Period in office

Justice Isaac Lenaola, who is representing the judges, will be leaving in October.

Prof Christine Mango, who was former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s nominee or Rev Samuel Kobia, who was former president Mwai Kibaki’s nominee will have to leave by the end of the year.

The commissioners are appointed to a period of either three or five years in order to ensure continuity and prevent a situation where all of them will leave the Commission at the same time.

As a senior administrator in the Judiciary, said the Court of Appeal judge, Mrs Shollei is well placed to offer herself to head the court when the time comes.

“You have to understand that there are the deep background games being played on this issue that might not be so clear as yet but lobbying is definitely underway,” he said.

The JSC has been in the spotlight for its decision to open investigations against Mrs Shollei for alleged abuse of office.

The decision split the Commission down the middle and Mrs Shollei went to court seeking to stop Mr Abdullahi and Commissioners Mary Ominde and Mohammed Warsamme sitting in the committee investigating her.

The JSC is investigating Mrs Shollei for impropriety in the leasing of Elgon Place, Rahimtulla Plaza, Libra House and other buildings owned by Agricultural Finance Corporation. The rent for these buildings for a period of five years is estimated to be Sh1.2 billion. The other charge is insubordination and alleged irregular hiring of staff.

The position of the Supreme Court judges, particularly the position of the CJ, are highly coveted given that they decide on cases which have huge legal, social, economic and political implications.

The court this year ruled that President Uhuru Kenyatta had been validly elected in the March 4 General Election in a case filed by his opponent Mr Odinga of the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy.

In the US, the Supreme Court has made landmark rulings touching on human rights, health care provision and issues touching on racial equality.

However, here, there have been corruption allegations at the Judicial Service Commission.

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