Judges sue SRC over optical cover, travel allowance cuts

Salaries and Remuneration Commission(SRC) Chairperson Lyn Mengichwhen she appeared before the Senate Devolution Committee at Parliament on July 6, 2023. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Judges are embroiled in a legal battle with the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) over the decision to slash optical cover and travel allowances.

In the case filed before the High Court, judges lamented that despite being glued to computers all day while hearing virtual court sessions, SRC has slashed their optical cover by close to Sh130,000.

The judges through lawyer Elisha Ongoya argued that virtual courts have adverse effects on eyes. However, Ongoya said, there was no justification for why SRC reduced the cover.

Judges took issue with the commission’s decision to reduce their travel allowance by Sh8,000. Ongoya said that judges are the only government officials who are deployed all over the country.

The lawyer asserted that the SRC dangled to judges peanuts in salary increments but raided their pay slips.

"That while the respondent has made marginal increases in the judges' salaries, it has also acted without jurisdiction in formulating benefits of Judges which unless urgently resolved would be detrimental to the independence of the judiciary and delivery of justice," argued Ongoya.

Judges are entitled to Sh200,000 optical cover while their travel allowance is capped at Sh20,000. However, in the new pay structure, SRC reduced the optical cover to Sh75,000 and travel allowance to Sh12,000.

Lawyer Ongoya argued that SRC has consistently made errors while tabulating how much judges are entitled to.

"That the errors made by the respondent in setting the remuneration and benefits of judges run at cross purpose with the Constitution which makes it necessary to immediately stay the implementation of the pay structure for the judges even though its implementation would have instant benefits for the judges,” he said.

Marion Joy Onchangwa is the face of the judges’ case. She asserted that judges use computers to conduct online court sessions, peruse documents filed by the parties, carry out research and type their decisions.

“Due to the extensive exposure to the screen light they are predisposed to suffer eyes problems which ought to be treated sufficiently as a means of ensuring occupational health and ensuring productivity of judges,” said Onchangwa in her supporting affidavit.

She told the court that SRC did not provide an allowance either for judges who would temporarily be without their official car because they have not been allocated one or due to its breakdown.

Onchangwa argued that the majority of the judges live far from their workstations and need the vehicles. She said that judges at times have to wait for up to two years to get a government vehicle.

“Judges are the only constitutional office holders who can be deployed anywhere within the Republic of Kenya. Due to the nature of their work, judges have to be transferred every three years. Many, if not all reside away from their workstations. Judges use their official cars to travel to their duty stations. While judges are ordinarily supplied with an official car, in the recent past judges have had to wait for more than two years before they are allocated an official car,” she said.

SRC provided for a Sh8 million car loan repayable within five years. The court heard that this translates to a monthly repayment of Sh143,750.

Onchangwa argued that the rate is not sustainable given that Judges have other deductions from their salaries including mortgage and taxes.

“The respondent also purports to limit the number of judges who can benefit from Special Judicial Duty Allowance for additional Special Judicial Responsibilities that may be bestowed on them,” she said.

Judges want the court to halt implementation of the new pay structure until the case is heard and determined.

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