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Martha Koome: Judiciary has begun to gain from better ties with other State actors

OPINION
By Martha Koome | December 2nd 2021

Chief Justice Martha Koome during the 75th anniversary of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), November 19, 2021. [Samson Wire. Standard]

The State bears the constitutional duty to ensure that everyone within our borders accesses justice. The implication of this obligation is that all branches of government have a shared responsibility to realise Kenyans’ long-held dream of a justice system that is accessible, cost-effective and efficient.

To effectively deliver on this shared obligation requires unhindered collaboration and coordination of all the actors in government while recognising the inherent nature of the independence of State organs. It means that State institutions must work in a cooperative and collaborative spirit as provided in articles 6 and 21(1) of the Constitution and the Judicial Service Act.

Thus, collaborative institutional engagement is set within the very fabric of the Constitution and our legislative framework. The fears that cooperative engagement is a threat to judicial independence are unfounded.

The constitutional structure for the operations of the Judiciary emphasises the independence of judges and judicial officers in the discharge of their core judicial mandate. In addition, the Judiciary is not be subjected to the control or direction by any person or authority. Thus, it is a constitutional command that no extraneous factor should be brought to bear in judicial decision-making.

However, at an institutional level outside the core of judicial decision-making, the Constitution envisages a more nuanced approach to judicial independence. It emphasises inter-dependence with other branches of government and State agencies who ought to play a facilitative role that enables the Judiciary to discharge its mandate.

The implication of this constitutional scheme is that all inter-branch tensions, disputes and the resource needs of the Judiciary ought to be addressed through principled dialogic and cooperative engagement.

It is in light of this that the Judiciary has enhanced cooperative and collaborative engagement in its institutional relationship with other arms of government and State agencies. This is being pursued in order to address the Judiciary’s significant budgetary, infrastructural, and human resource constraints.

I note with gratitude that pursuant to the robust cooperative dialogue we have had with the Executive branch, the Judiciary Police Unit has been established, the Judiciary Fund is being operationalised and the Judiciary has been allocated land to build the Kenya Judiciary Academy. This is the spirit of harmony that underlies the Constitution that demands that all State organs work together in pursuit of the common good.

The Judiciary has enhanced cooperative and collaborative engagement in its institutional relationship - Martha Koome. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

I hope that this collaborative approach will continue and will help unlock other areas of inter-institutional tension. 

The values of integrity and accountability are core foundational values of our constitutional system. In addition, the law places a high premium on ethical conduct by judges and judicial officers.

The Judiciary has embarked on mainstreaming the idea of ‘judicial hygiene’ in the conduct of judges, judicial officers and staff with the aim of enhancing public trust and confidence in the judicial system. We aim to do this by ensuring that we deal firmly and swiftly, but also fairly with any complaints of misconduct including allegations that relate to corruption.

I, therefore, assure Kenyans that complaints implicating any judge, judicial officer or staff will be dealt with promptly and satisfactorily.  

We are also working towards enhancing the efficiency of the processing and the resolution of complaints against judges, judicial officers, and judicial staff at both the Judicial Service Commission and the Office of the Judiciary’s Ombudsperson. We aim to provide adequate staff to these bodies with the goal of having a turnaround of at most six months in the investigations and processing of complaints.

In a further measure towards improving the efficacy of our complaints handling procedures and systems, we are working towards leveraging on technology to improve the complaints lodging, tracking and feedback system. This will enable complainants to lodge their grievances online and track the progress in the investigation and resolution of the complaint. It will also ensure regular updates to complainants on the progress of resolving a complaint.

Consequent to my invitation, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission is already undertaking a systems review of the policies, procedures and practices of the Judiciary with the goal of identifying the avenues and opportunities for unethical and corrupt practices so that we can work towards eliminating them.

This preventive approach is informed by the reality that aside from being a function of lack of personal and professional ethics, corruption is also a function of distortions of laws, policies, practices, and processes that are manipulated in order to favour personal or private interests.

Given that the challenge of stamping out corruption in our public and private sector remains a formidable challenge, I call upon all Kenyans to rally together and join hands in our quest to slay this ugly monster that has destroyed our nation, including through reporting any complaints of alleged incidents of corruption within the Judiciary.

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