Ruto and Judiciary trade words over corruption claims

President William Ruto. [Rebecca Nduku, Standard]

A war of words has erupted between President William Ruto and the legal fraternity, ignited by Ruto's accusations of  corruption within the courts and his vow to defy rulings that impede his development agenda.

The Chief Justice, Martha Koome, the Law Society of Kenya (LSK), and the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) all condemned Ruto's remarks.

They all argued that this is likely to raise an alarm about the potential undermining of the country's democratic institutions.

In an internal memo seen by The Standard, Koome called for concerns about judicial misconduct to be channelled through the JSC for "firm and swift action." 

She pledged to engage with the two other arms of government, the executive and legislature, to ensure harmonious working relationships.

She further indicated her intention to open an investigation into the corruption and impunity allegations.

"I will seek concrete information and reports on the referenced acts of impunity and corruption so that we can address them comprehensively as we have in the past," the memo stated.

Ruto's critics, including Koome and LSK president Eric Theuri, accused him of targeting the judiciary with unsubstantiated claims of corruption and failing to follow proper channels for redress.

“We are worried that this latest attempts to label the judiciary as corrupt is intended to begin the process of public lynching of the entire judiciary so that the executive can have its way on various cases it has been losing in court,” Theuri said during a media address in Nairobi.

Theuri argues that the president should be the last person to cast aspersions on the judiciary being a beneficiary of its ruling following the presidential election petitions soon after the 2022 elections

“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,” Theuri said.

In support of the Judiciary, LSK Vice President Faith Odhiambo said advocates across the country will next week begin peaceful protest countrywide and don on purple ribbons; which symbolise a way for advocates to voice their views, without falling afoul of what is considered disruptive or contemptuous.

Ruto's accusations stem from two of his flagship projects being temporarily halted by courts, including his universal healthcare and affordable housing initiatives.

He responded to the criticism by claiming he intends to protect judicial independence but will not tolerate "judicial tyranny and impunity."

This escalating row between the executive and the judiciary raises concerns about the potential erosion of Kenya's democratic norms and the rule of law. Whether Ruto's accusations hold merit and how the judiciary responds will significantly shape the country's political landscape in the months to come.

Theuri argues that the same judiciary had both nullified a previous presidential election and upheld Ruto's own victory in 2022.

"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," Theuri stated.

He emphasized that any allegations against judicial officers should be directed through the JSC.

"An independent judiciary is not a threat but a cornerstone of our democracy... The threats by the president not to comply with court orders therefore heralds the return of an autocratic regime and amounts to a constitutional coup," Theuri warned.

The JSC, in a separate statement, urged judges to remain unwavering in their duties despite the criticism. Koome acknowledged the increased public scrutiny faced by judges who rule against state programs and policies.

"The JSC wishes to reaffirm the independence and integrity of the Judiciary as a co-equal arm of government, as enshrined in the Constitution and urges all Judges and Judicial Officers to continue performing their judicial duties without fear or favour," Koome's statement read.

She emphasized the constitution's guarantee of access to justice, which, she argued, is violated when court orders against the state are ignored.

"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," Koome pointed out.

She assured Kenyans that any legitimate complaints of judicial misconduct or corruption would be swiftly addressed.

"The JSC therefore encourages anyone with information on any act that threatens the integrity of judicial processes and outcomes to report any such cases to the JSC for determinate action," she declared.