Lawyers to protest against President's attack on Judiciary

Law Society of Kenya President, Erick Theur alongside society's vice President, Faith Odhiambo during a press conference in Nairobi. [Samson Wire,Standard]

The Law Society of Kenya (LSK) has announced that it will organize peaceful protests across the country in defense of the rule of law and in solidarity with the Judiciary.

 This comes after President William Ruto made remarks about the judicial branch of the government, alleging that some rulings made by the Judiciary were slowing down the implementation of the Kenya Kwanza development agenda.

LSK has also urged its members to wear purple ribbons throughout the next week as a symbol of protest against the President’s threats to defy court orders, which it termed as a “constitutional coup” and a “return of an autocratic regime.”

 In a statement issued on Wednesday, January 3, LSK President Eric Theuri accused the President of undermining the rule of law and the independence of the Judiciary, which he said was “a cornerstone of democracy.”

 “The Constitution mandates that such powers be wielded and exercised in adherence to constitutional provisions,” he said.

LSK also commended the Judiciary for its role as “the guardian of the constitution” and “a check against executive overreach”, citing examples of how it nullified and upheld presidential elections, and blocked attempts by previous regimes to force constitutional reforms upon the people.

  “It is imperative to remind our esteemed president that the judiciary, through its impartial interventions, has both nullified a prior presidential election and, at another juncture, upheld his very own election. This underscores the sacrosanct role of a robust and independent judiciary in fostering national growth, stability, and economic prosperity,” said Theuri.

 Theuri called on the President to refrain from “public incitement” against the judiciary and instead use “legal avenues” to challenge decisions that he finds aggrieving.

 He also asked him to provide any evidence of corruption of judges to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and avoid casting aspersions upon the entire institution of the Judiciary.

  “Upholding the rule of law requires the President to lead by example, fostering a society where legal disputes are resolved through established channels, not through public lynching,” he added.

 The LSK also appealed to Kenyans to maintain their “resolve and confidence” in the court system and to uphold the principles enshrined in the constitution.

 He said: “We must not allow our Constitution to suffer dereliction.”

 One of the rulings that provoked the President’s ire was the court order that halted the implementation of the 1.5 per cent housing levy on salaried Kenyans, declaring it unconstitutional.

 The court order was issued by Judges Lawrence Mugambi, Christine Meoli and David Majanja, who ruled that the introduction of the levy was discriminatory since it imposed taxes on salaried Kenyans alone and excluded those working in the informal sector.

 The judges also found that the levy violated the right to property and the right to fair administrative action, as it did not provide for an opt-out clause or a mechanism for refunding the contributions in case of withdrawal.

 The President, while speaking in Nyandarua on Tuesday, claimed that the court order was a setback to his administration’s efforts to provide affordable housing to Kenyans, which is one of the pillars of the Kenya Kwanza development agenda.

  “We have a problem with some of our courts because every time we try to do something, they say it is unconstitutional. They are always putting obstacles in our way. They don’t care about the welfare of the people. They only care about their own interests,” Ruto said.

 He warned that he would not tolerate any interference with his development plans and vowed to take action against those who were frustrating his agenda.

 He said: “We will not allow anyone to stop us from fulfilling our promises to the people. We will not be intimidated by anyone. We will deal with them accordingly.”

 In a separate statement, the JSC also expressed concern over the public criticism and vilification of judges and judicial officers for issuing court orders that are perceived to be against state programmes and policies.

 JSC reaffirmed the independence and integrity of the judiciary as “a co-equal arm of government”, as enshrined in the constitution, and urged all judges and judicial officers to continue performing their judicial duties “without fear or favour”.

 Chief Justice Martha Koome, who is the JSC Chair, said: “The Judiciary should live up to the constitutional edict, in Article 160(1), that safeguards the exercise of judicial authority.”

 She also drew the attention of state and public officers to the fact that the constitution places positive duties on the state to ensure “respect for the law” and “adherence to the law” by providing citizens with effective mechanisms for resolving disputes between themselves and between them and the state.

 “Where a citizen obtains a court order against the state and that court order is deliberately ignored or disobeyed by state officials, the right of access to justice is undermined because it fatally attacks the effectiveness of the legal system on which ordinary citizens rely to have their rights and legal duties enforced," she said.

The Senior Counsel Bar, a group of eminent lawyers in Kenya, also issued a statement expressing its “grave regret” over the President’s recent remarks, saying they “brazenly undermine” the Judiciary, one of the three pillars of democracy.

 “It is a matter of grave regret that the highest office in the land, namely that of the President of the Republic of Kenya, should sink as low as to brazenly undermine another of one of the other two pillars of any democratic state, namely the Judiciary,” Chairman of the Senior Counsel Bar Fred Ojiambo.

 “Yet that is the essence and import of the most recent statement by the Head of State regarding and aimed at Judiciary.”