By MURIMI MWANGI
NYERI COUNTY: The High Court will tour 2761 acres of land owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Nyeri, which is at the centre of a suit involving 317 squatters.
Justice Anthony Ombwayo of the Land and Environment Division said the court will tour the land in November this year before entering a judgment on the dispute.
He further directed that the case file over the same land currently before the Nairobi court be brought to the Nyeri court in 14 days.
The judge, however, declined to order for the head of the Catholic Church in Kenya John Cardinal Njue to testify in court over the dispute, as had been prayed by the petitioners who claim to be representing a generation of over 3,000 people.
In the suit, the squatters have sued the Catholic Archdiocese, two Catholic priests, the Nyeri County Government and the State over the land they claim the colonial government alienated at the height of the country’s state of emergency during the Mau Mau war, and handed to Italian Missionaries.
The Italians in turn handed the land to the Consolata Catholic Mission Centre, which occupies the land to date.
The county government and the State are sued as the carriers of the burden of the injustices allegedly perpetrated by the colonial government.
Lawyers Wanyiri Kihoro and Alex Gatundu, who are representing the petitioners, told the court that the visit is crucial as it will corroborate the evidence on record so that the court can enter a fair judgment.
“These people have tried all avenues including the Ndung’u Commission and you can understand their frustrations. But they are hopeful this court will be their light at the end of the tunnel,” said Gatundu.
He continued; “The reality is that this dispute has been on for over 60 years and this visit will be crucial in illustrating the petitioner’s frustrations,” said Kihoro.
But lawyer Simon Wekesa for the dioceses and priests told the court that the said visit should be done after the hearing of the suit to avoid prejudicing the judges against his clients.
He also objected an application by the petitioners for Cardinal Njue to appear in court and adduce oral evidence on the dispute.
“This is a fishing expedition because no single evidence in this court mentions cardinal Njue, neither is he a party to this suit,” said Wekesa.
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Wanyiri wanted the Njue to testify in court and explain whether he is aware of the fundamental rights of the petitioners whose violation his church had allegedly perpetrated.
“We have already seen a former president testify in court so the Cardinal’s testimony will not be a big deal,” said Kihoro.
Earlier in the case, Wanyiri caused a stir in the courtroom when he said Nyeri Governor Nderitu Gachagua should personally follow the court proceedings, as his government has not assisted the aggrieved petitioner’s reclaim the contentious land.
The case continues on May 13 when the court will confirm whether the Nairobi file has been brought to Nyeri ahead of the hearing slated for November 3, 2014.
Justice Ombwayo said the court will visit the land on November 7 2014, the final day for the hearing of the suit.