Justice Said Chitembwe: We cannot eliminate corruption

Justice Said Chitembwe at the Supreme Court in Nairobi on April 3, 2021. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

The Judiciary cannot eliminate corruption or the perception of it, these were the sentiments of Justice Juma Said Chitembwe to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) as he was being interviewed for the position of a judge at the Supreme Court on Monday.

“I don’t think there will come a time when a survey will be done and Kenyans say there is zero corruption in the judiciary,” Chitembwe told the JSC.

Explaining his sentiments, the judge said the survey usually done by Transparency International deals with people from all walks of life and most of them, have had an experience with the judiciary that might not have been satisfactory leading to the conclusion that the judiciary is corrupt.

“It is because of the nature of the work [we do], you deal with peoples' lives, and the expectation of the public is quite high,” he said.

Asked by commissioner Evelyn Olwade to explain further what he meant, he said:

“I can bet to my last penny there will no survey whereby you go to a court in Nakuru, Kisumu or the court of appeal and we come here and say JSC there is zero corruption.”

To help address the issue of corruption in the court Justice Chitembwe said that he would work with his colleagues to ensure cases are expedited quickly

“Delays raise suspicion.”

The judge believes to gain the full trust of Kenyans, judges in the Supreme Court should keep in mind the expectations put on them, and work with transparency to give good rulings. Justice Chitembwe said that he believes the public must come first in his work.

“Public interest should always prevail over your own interests,” he said.

Asked to give more details into his 2015 ruling that lifted a curfew imposed by the government to fight insecurity in Lamu, Justice Chitembwe said, the government in some instances should involve the public in matters that affect them.

"At the time livelihoods were affected by the curfew and the government was extending it without looking at the negative impacts it had. You can have security even without a curfew,” he said.

Justice Chitembwe says if given a chance to chair any committee in the Supreme Court, he would make sure money allocated has been well utilised, with proper documentation and a report for every Financial Year since the money they get is taxes from Kenyans.

Justice Chitembwe also believes there should be a cap on the number of years one can serve as a judge in the Supreme Court. He said the likelihood of a judge changing a stand that they held five or 10 years before is very low.

He says the maximum number of years one should serve in the court should be no more than 15.

“There should be a change of ideas and personnel in the court,” he said.

The Judge would also recommend that fellow judges write their own ruling on cases brought before the court.

“When it comes to a matter of public importance we may want to know what is the view of every judge. We can discuss but everyone to come up to individual judgements,” he said.

This, he says, gives the public a rare peek at the views held by judges.

He cited the 2017 presidential election petition saying the ruling did not give Kenyans a glimpse of views held by the different judges. He said the Covid-19 pandemic has given the judiciary a chance to work on its delivery of justice.

He cited technology as one of the things that the judiciary was forced to adopt and heavily rely on.

"Moving forward the judiciary should consider using technology on matter that do not need physical attendance like appeals. An appeal is filed, the record is filed, you are not taking any new evidence, you can hear these appeals online,” he told commissioners.

The judge’s part of community service is to help deal with the issue of youth radicalisation in his home county of Kwale.

In his thesis for doctoral studies at the Masinde Muliro University, the judge is writing a proposal on radicalisation.

“There are many returnees from Somalia in the county, these are people who are trained. Some people cannot build a house in their rural home for fear of being attacked by the returnees who feel they are being haunted,” he told the JSC.

He said he had engaged political and religious leaders in the area to see how they can help integrate the returnees.

The judge believes that he is not too young for the position in the court, saying he meets the qualification criteria and being denied a chance to serve in the court due to his age would amount to discrimination.