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Salute to Dr Willy Mutunga’s endearing legacy

By MUTAHI KAGWE | June 21st 2016

“The case of Carrill vs carbolic smoke ball is a classic illustration of the law of contract,” Dr Willy Mutunga would say in his characteristic soft-spoken nature to an attentive bunch of students.

This was at the University of Nairobi many years ago where I was one of the attentive students. Over the years, Dr Mutunga became a friend and I have followed his career.

I was, therefore, one of the people who applauded when he was appointed the Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court in 2011.

His appointment came against the backdrop of a Judiciary that was grappling with credibility issues and fighting hard for independence.

This highlighted the enormity of the task at hand, which he took with gusto and in my view surpassed expectations.

His unassuming demeanour, which endeared him to friends and foes alike, will linger on even though he will no longer grace our corridors of justice following his retirement last week.

We Kenyans have a tendency of seeing the glass as half empty instead of half full. Consequently, there are those who will not fully appreciate the work that Dr Mutunga did. They will see only what he did not do, never what he did as if he was appointed with the express directive to do everything in five years.

I want to claim a half full glass and congratulate Dr Mutunga! He made the best of a bad situation, transforming the image of the Judiciary.

The statistics speak for themselves and even though his departure means intermission of the reforms he started, he has laid a solid ground for the continued improvement of the image of the Judiciary for this successor.

Dr Mutunga has achieved so much in spite of so much negativity and little appreciation. He wowed me in one of his addresses to the Senate when he enumerated some of his achievements in five short years. I frankly had no idea he had done so much.

For starters, he took it upon himself to decentralise the Judiciary’s services to the grassroots.

Today, thanks to reforms effected on his watch, there are 34 high courts countrywide compared to 14 when he took up office in 2011.

Many Kenyans, including those in my Nyeri backyard, today enjoy the services of the Court of Appeal without having to travel to Nairobi where the court was previously domiciled.

His other notable and most commendable achievement, for which he will be remembered by most Kenyans, was his advocacy for the Alternative Justice System.

Vexed by the backlog of cases in our courts, Dr Mutunga introduced the hitherto unheard-of dispute resolution mechanism, which compels parties to seek out-of-court settlements, thus freeing up the courts’ time and resources for more pressing and serious cases.

The number of judges in the country has also gone up significantly over the last five years with the Judiciary now boasting 104 judges, up from 42 in 2011.

An additional 46 magistrates have also been added to the system over the period while the public’s perception of the Judiciary has also improved markedly.

Dr Mutunga can also be credited with improving gender parity in the Judiciary with the ratio of women and men in the system now at 45 per cent to 55 per cent.

More persons with disabilities now work in the Judiciary with their number having increased from just over 0.1 per cent to 1.2 per cent.

The longs-tanding complaints about salary discrepancies between magistrates and judges were also reduced considerably under Dr Mutunga’s tenure, besides them having associations that advocate for their rights as well as those of other judicial staff.

These are just some of the good deeds I can remember from the top of my head. Had he served his full term until next year, he could have done so much more to silence the naysayers, but he chose to leave at his own time and on his own terms.

When the history books are written, Dr Mutunga will be remembered as a Kenyan who set out to make a difference despite the challenges that punctuated his tenure and achieved a remarkable success, which is why Kenyans should subscribe to my earlier analogy of seeing things from the perspective of the glass being half full rather than half empty.

Dr Mutunga laid down the marker, and he sure will be a hard act to follow for the next office holder.

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