Kenya woke up one early morning in June to shocking banners hoisted along major streets in Nairobi, depicting Chief Justice David Maraga and the Judiciary in negative light.
The banners had images of the Chief Justice and some senior judicial officers and judges and threatened to reveal who Maraga was protecting.
The banners were among the many attacks the Judiciary had to fight off in 2020, a year that ended with Maraga taking his terminal leave ahead of his retirement.
The Judiciary reacted angrily to the banners, stating that the attacks were meant to threaten and intimidate judges from making tough decisions against the public.
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“While the Judiciary does not know the people behind these attacks, it is clear that the banners are a continuation of well-choreographed attacks on the Judiciary. It is not the first time and we request police to investigate and bring the culprits to book,” the Judiciary said in a statement.
The banners were some of the controversies that rocked the Judiciary in 2020, a year marked by unending wars with the Executive over failure by President Uhuru Kenyatta to appoint 41 judges despite two court orders and budgetary cuts that affected its operations.
There was hope within the corridors of justice in January 2020 that the Executive had buried the hatchet in “revisiting” its decision to nullify the presidential election in 2017 when President Kenyatta attended a Judiciary event.
But it was not to be.
“To our president, wherever you are, it is clear that there is a difference of opinion between me and you. But I want to assure you and the entire nation that I have nothing personal against you. Why should I fight you, I am not a politician and I don’t hold brief for any politician,” Maraga said in November.
In an address to the nation that was broadcast live on TV, he declared that President Kenyatta was out of order for refusing to appoint the 41 judges.
He said the president could not cherry-pick from the list of nominees as the independence of the Judiciary would be irreparably ruined if this was allowed.
According to Maraga, it was a mockery for the president and his government to demand that citizens obey the same laws they were disobeying, in the process exposing the public to suffering as a result of willful defiance of court orders.
“This disregard of court orders by the president is part of the pattern by the Executive to undermine the Judiciary,” he said.
In a rejoinder through Attorney General Kihara Kariuki, the president accused the CJ of seeking public sympathy to hide his failures and mismanagement of the Judiciary, and retorted that he would not concede to pressure from the CJ to swear-in judges with questionable integrity.
Maraga would again set tongues wagging when he advised the president to dissolve Parliament for failing to enact the two-thirds gender principle.
The advisory drew the ire of the Executive and politicians who accused the CJ of usurping legislative powers. Several court cases challenging his recommendations are still pending determination at the High Court.
The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) was also not spared of controversy as fallout among the 11-commissioners ensued over plans to recruit Maraga’s successor.
JSC commissioner Macharia Njeru kicked off a storm by accusing the CJ of being rigid and opposing a meeting to discuss his impending retirement and recruitment of his successor.
The dispute spilled over to the Law Society of Kenya (LSK), which threatened to expel its two representatives at the JSC, claiming that they had joined hands with dark forces who were out to cripple the judiciary.
LSK president Nelson Havi said they would not watch their representatives create disharmony at JSC.
Deputy CJ Philomena Mwilu also waded into the controversy within the JSC when she filed a petition at the High Court to stop a disciplinary case filed against her by Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji.
Justice Mwilu wanted the Attorney General and Njeru to recuse themselves from the JSC disciplinary hearings over claims of bias.
Claims of corruption, bribery and misconduct also rocked the Judiciary with several judges facing the JSC disciplinary committee.
The sensational claims of bribery also forced some judges to recuse themselves, like in the case of ousted Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko where a judge disqualified himself from handling the case over allegations that he received a bribe of Sh7 million to stop the assembly from ousting Sonko.
And as the Judiciary recruits a new CJ to take over when Maraga retires on January 12, the public will wait to see how the successor will handle the controversies that rocked the institution.