Okiya Omtatah goes to court over recent appointment of appellate judges

Activist Okiya Omtatah. [File, Standard]

An activist has challenged the appointment of seven judges to the Court of Appeal claiming that the process was irregular.

Through an urgent suit filed at the High Court, activist Okiya Omtatah argues that the process used by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to appoint the appellate judges was laced with corruption and discrimination against more qualified persons.

Omtatah wants the court to stop Justices Lydia Achode, Luka Kimaru, Fredrick Ochieng, John Mativo, Abida Ali Aroni, Grace Ngenye and Paul Gachoka from taking up their new roles or being assigned duties as Court of Appeal judges until his petition is heard and determined.

The commission had on July 13 recommended the seven candidates for appointment to the Court of Appeal out of 31 candidates interviewed and President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed them on July 19.

According to Omtatah, the appointment process was flawed as the JSC decided to conduct the interviews in camera instead of having it in open to allow the public assess the candidates' credibility. Omtatah added that JSC illegally created an extra position without allowing competitive recruitment since they had advertised for six positions but ended up appointing seven.

"It is practically impossible to appoint seven judges if only six vacancies existed. But if the vacancy really exists, then that one slot, the seventh, was deliberately hidden from the public to achieve improper motives and advance corrupt practices," he said.

Omtatah said the appointments were also discriminatory against judges from the Employment and Labour Relations and the Environment and Lands courts as they only promoted judges from the High Court and a lawyer from private practice.

Omtatah said JSC has never appointed judges from the two courts to the Court of Appeal despite the fact that appeals from decisions of the two courts go to the Court of Appeal.

"Judges of the two courts are equally qualified and experienced to hear and determine all other cases before the Court of Appeal. It is unacceptable that they are, by default, locked out of appointments simply because of the courts they serve," he said, adding that the decision to lock out judges from those courts from promotion to Court of Appeal is killing their morale.

Justice Hedwig Ong'udi certified the application as urgent and directed Omtatah to serve the JSC for it to respond before the hearing on July 28.