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Cases to pile up as judicial officials say will handle only urgent cases

 Judges, magistrates and other judicial officers at Milimani Law Courts following the death of Makadara Principal Magistrate Monica Kivuti, June 18, 2024. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

Martin, not his real name, was scheduled to travel out of the country on Tuesday but had a pending court matter at the Kibera Law Courts.

Due to the ongoing suspension of services, he postponed his travel to avoid missing his court date. He has waited for weeks and is now uncertain about what will happen.

“I cannot imagine taking it any further. It has already messed me up, and it’s still unclear when this will be resolved. I understand why this is happening, but it shouldn’t infringe on other people’s rights,” he says.

He is one among many Kenyans left to twist in the wind after court sessions were put off following the shooting of Makadara Law Courts Principal Magistrate Monica Kivuti.

After an earlier confusion, the Kenya Magistrates and Judges Association (KMJA) yesterday evening asked members to resume work today.

However, sources said they would only offer scaled-down services until their work conditions were improved and their security assured.

“We had a meeting with the Chief Justice and we have agreed that in the new arrangement, we shall only allow our officers to handle pleas and certificates of urgency. We are not resuming at full strength,” explained an official.

“What this means essentially is that if a court has say 15 magistrate rooms and five were makeshifts, we can only have 10 operating until things return to normal, and only for plea-taking and certificates of urgency.”

Earlier, KMJA had vowed to defy Chief Justice Martha Koome’s directive to resume work.

Wheels of justice

“We are doing this not to disrupt the wheels of justice but to express our displeasure about what happened to our colleague. This was brutal and should never happen again in this country,” said a magistrate who requested anonymity.

The association on Sunday directed all judges, magistrates and Kadhis to down their tools until Friday to protest poor working conditions following Kivuti’s death.

Kivuti was shot on Thursday by Chief Inspector Samson Kipchirchir Kipruto inside a makeshift courtroom. The officer, who was shot and killed by his colleagues, was believed to be a spouse of the accused.

Three other officers were injured in the incident, but are reportedly in stable condition.

The suspension of court services yesterday left users stranded countrywide.

 “We had an important human interest case coming up, and this stalemate has left us stuck. Courts provide essential services, and it’s suicidal to think they can be suspended even for a second. This has messed us up,” said Francis Auma of the Mombasa-based Muslims for Human Rights (Muhuri).

Some lawyers criticised the move to close the courts.

Criminal lawyer Shadrack Wambui added that the closure of operations was irreversibly damaging. “This is a moment for the country to reflect deeply. We have to ask hard questions regarding this heinous incident. Suspension of court operations for a judiciary reeling from a backlog of cases means more doom for our country,” he said.

“Picture the people who have been arrested recently. This was a long weekend because of the holiday. Are you telling me they will stay in custody for all those days when the courts are suspended before they appear in court? Are we suspending the Constitution and creating a mess in the name of fixing what has happened? What happens to the rights of such people?”

Lawyer Duncan Ondimu questioned on X: “KMJA leadership should reflect on their intended actions keenly. Such a drastic action should not be taken. The ripple effects will be felt for years to come.”

Some of the events affected include the Judicial Service Commission interviews for the Court of Appeal judges.

The judgement on the operationalisation of the Competence Based Curriculum was also postponed.

“We hope that these acts of solidarity will translate into something. It’s tough to think how Hon. Kivuti lost her life. Never again should that happen,” said Zaina Kombo of Amnesty International Kenya and an advocate of the High Court. 

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