Court reviews plea to shield judges from higher taxes

Law society of Kenya Council Member lawyer Kipkoech Bernhard Ng'etich left and his Counterpart Peter Okiro after filling a petition against the Judicial Service Commission at a Nakuru Court on January 22, 2019. [File, Standard]

The High Court in Nakuru has certified as urgent a petition seeking to have judges exempted from increased taxes under the Finance Act, 2023.

Justice Hillary Chemitei issued directions on the petition, placing it before the duty judge on August 30.

Lawyer Peter Okiro, in the petition filed through his colleague Kipkoech Ng'etich, says that judges' remuneration and benefits are crucial to the independence of the Judiciary.

Mr Okiro argues that a judge's remuneration and benefits are constitutionally protected and cannot be changed to their disadvantage.

This, he added, ensures judges can serve independently, impartially, and free from influence.

"There is an apparent risk of the judicial officers being subjected to an unconstitutional law to their utter detriment contrary to the constitutionally enshrined principles of judicial independence," reads the petition.

Okiro has named the National Assembly, Speaker of the National Assembly, Treasury Cabinet Secretary, Attorney General, Salaries and Remuneration Commission, and the Kenya Revenue Authority Commissioner General as respondents. The Judicial Service Commission was also named as an interested party.

The lawyer has requested Chief Justice Martha Koome to appoint a three-judge bench to hear the matter.

In June, the Government enacted the Finance Act, 2023. President William Ruto assented to it on June 26, and it took effect on July 1. This led to amendments in various tax-related provisions.

The Act affected The Third Schedule of the Income Tax Act, Cap 470, which pertains to personal relief and tax rates, by increasing the tax rate.

Okiro argues that judges could be prejudiced by the increased tax rate as they fall within higher tax brackets.

He notes that Section 84 of the Act introduces an affordable housing levy, requiring employees to pay 1.5 per cent of their gross income as tax. This tax, he says, unfairly impacts judges' income.