Appeals court suspends hearing of anti-Tea Act petition

Farmers pick tea on a farm in Kiangondu village in Tharaka-Nithi County. PHOTO | ALEX NJERU | NMG

The Court of Appeal has suspended the hearing of several petitions filed by 52 tea factories challenging sections of the Tea Act, pending the resolution of which law firms to represent them in the cases.

The factories moved to the Appellate court stating that the petitions pending before the High Court should not be heard without first resolving the question of legal representation.

According to them, a bench of three judges appointed to determine the cases gave directions, that they were not satisfied with and that further, they risked being saddled with unnecessary costs from two sets of advocates.

They told Justices Asike Makhandia, Kathurima M’Inoti, and Sankale ole Kantai that they were previously represented by the firm of Millimo & Muthomi Advocates but they later instructed the law firm of Gwandaru Thuita & Company Advocates who upon appointment, were instructed to withdraw some applications and also enter consent in others.

The earlier lawyers then filed an application to strike out all the documents filed by the new advocates, leading to a stalemate. The court then gave directions, which did not go well with some tea factories.

“In these circumstances, we can only issue a conditional stay of proceedings to ensure that this dispute does not drag on endlessly,” the judges said.

The court directed them to file the appeal within 45 days from the date of the ruling and the hearing to be fast-tracked.

“In default of filing and serving the record of appeal as directed, the orders of stay of execution and of proceedings shall stand discharged,” the judges said.

In the petitions, which were consolidated, more than 15 companies under Kenya Tea Growers Association and East African Tea Trade Association (EATTA) challenged sections of the Tea Act arguing that they are unconstitutional.

Among the parts targeted by the EATTA is section 34(4), which it said is silent on the percentage of payments to be borne by the tea buyers and tea factories to pay the brokerage commission. The sections cap the brokerage fees but fail to indicate how the fees will be paid, according to EATTA.

The law, which came into effect on January 11, 2021, says all teas should be offered on the tea auction floor.

The tea estates argue the sections challenged will have a negative effect on other tea players.

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