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Nation's hope or despair will depend on respect for rule of law

 President William Ruto should now ensure compliance with all the court orders. [Istockphoto]

President William Ruto must be fully aware of the high demands of his office. There's no doubt Kenyans have huge expectations of him. One such expectation is absolute obedience of court orders and non-negotiable respect for the rule of law.

The centrality of the rule of law and the role of the Judiciary in our democracy cannot be gainsaid. It is heartwarming that the new president knows this because he is on record that every public servant, irrespective of the office they hold, must respect the rule of law. In one instance, he stated: "Court orders are not pieces of paper. It is the law. We want every public servant to understand that the basis of our democracy and our nationhood is respect for the rule of law... Every public servant will be held accountable if they do not respect the rule of law."

When President Ruto referred to "every public servant," I am sure he meant the president, the highest-ranking public servant, is included. One case in the US is worth mentioning. In 1999, the US District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Western Division, found William Jefferson Clinton, the then sitting president of the US, guilty of disobeying the court's order. Chief Judge Susan W Wright, after acknowledging that the president occupied a unique office with vast powers and responsibilities as the chief law enforcement officer of the nation, was spot on.

"There simply is no escaping the fact that the President deliberately violated this Court's discovery Orders and thereby undermined the integrity of the judicial system. Sanctions must be imposed, not only to redress the President's misconduct, but to deter others who might themselves consider emulating the President of the US by engaging in misconduct that undermines the integrity of the judicial system...," Judge Wright ruled.

The above case is a stark reminder that not even the president of the US, arguably the strongest democracy in the world, can get away with disobeying a court order. When it comes to showing deference to court orders, the senior-most public servant, the president, is expected to lead by example.

President Ruto is fully aware that the outgoing government did not perform well in complying with court orders. He knows this not only because he was part of that regime, holding the second senior most position, but also because he discussed the issue during the presidential debate.

When asked by one of the moderators whether he believed in the independence of the Judiciary, he responded in the affirmative. He recognised that there were incidences where court orders against the government were "not sorted out," effectively acknowledging that the government had disobeyed court orders. He stated that he had identified disobedience of court orders as part of the things he intended to sort out if elected.

"I have recognised that (disobedience of court orders) as an issue because I believe in the independence of the Judiciary. I believe (the) government should lead from the front in obeying court orders. In fact, we have said in our manifesto (that) we will look at all judgments entered against (the) government and develop a mechanism to make sure that within one year we comply with all the judgments," Ruto said.

The Kenya Kwanza manifesto communicates commitment to obey court orders and uphold the rule of law. It expressly states commitment to empower the Judiciary and the criminal justice system. It also recognises that an independent Judiciary is meant to check the excesses of the Executive authority.

The president should now ensure compliance with all the court orders that the outgoing government flagrantly disobeyed. His appointment of the judges who the past government declined to appoint is timely.

Many Kenyans hope that when lawyer Miguna Miguna takes the first flight to his home country, the Kenya Kwanza government will not stop him. We also hope that Mr Peter Mwagiru Kariuki, a former Air Force commander, and many Kenyans with judgments against the government will now enjoy the fruits of their judgments courtesy of the new government.

Mr Oluga is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya.

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