House team meets amid calls for radical change in JSC composition

Parliamentary Justice and Legal Committee chairman William Cheptumo.

The Parliamentary Justice and Legal Committee will this week meet over the looming crisis at the Supreme Court, as calls for a review of the Judicial Service Commission’s (JSC) composition intensifies.

The meeting is for committee members to deliberate on whether the ongoings at the Judiciary interfere with the institution’s independence or the issues are likely to erode public confidence.

The committee’s chairman William Cheptumo said there was need for urgent intervention because there are underlying factors that the committee needs to understand first.

Relook composition

At the same time, the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) president Allen Gichuhi and Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Junior, who is also a lawyer, called for a relook into the JSC composition.

Mutula said it is a worldwide practice that judges be investigated by their peers, adding that there is need to revisit the JSC Act, especially on the issue of probing judges.

The LSK president said there is need to relook the commission’s composition, period of tenure and terms that allow the appointment of active judges. The meeting comes days after JSC forwarded recommendations to President Uhuru Kenyatta to form a tribunal to probe Justice JB Ojwang’s conduct.

According to JSC chairman, Justice David Maraga, Justice Ojwang declined to appear before the commission to respond to allegations touching on his conduct.

The committee is also monitoring the rate at which petitions are being filed against judges, especially those sitting in the Supreme Court. Justice Maraga had challenged Senior Counsel Ahmednasir Abdullahi to file a petition at the JSCabout claims that some Supreme Court judges’ palms were greased in the Wajir gubernatorial election petition.

“I challenge him to file a petition and assure him the JSCwould take stern and appropriate action if given evidence of alleged corruption,” the CJ said in February. In another twist, a petition attacking the CJ’s integrity was filed by one Yussuf Ibrahim Dimbil.

He wants the CJ out of office for allegedly appearing in political rallies and homecoming ceremonies of politicians. Mr Cheptumo said the committee will come up with a way forward after the meeting, adding that as a body, its mandate is to oversee the Judiciary. In the old constitution, the CJ had powers to recommend the commencement of proceedings to remove a judge from office. But this was changed in the 2010 Constitution, that describes the CJ as the head of the Judiciary, but has no powers to discipline judges or magistrates. The power to do so was transferred to the JSC.

“We need to relook the peer review mechanism that was previously used in the disciplinary process to protect the integrity of the Judiciary,” Cheptumo added.