Four senior judges have been declared unsuitable to hold office by the Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board.
The nine-member vetting board unanimously found that Court of Appeal judges Riaga Omollo, Samuel Bosire, Emmanuel O’Kubasu and Joseph Nyamu were unfit to continue serving in the Judiciary due to their past failures, ranging from corruption to impartiality.
Justice Alnashir Visram survived the axe with a majority vote after three members of the vetting board held dissenting views on his suitability to continue serving.
The board did not disclose the reasons given by the dissenting members.
The purge will affect the operations of the Appeal Court given that it is most likely to result in a backlog.
Sharad Rao, the chairman of the vetting board, said that five other judges, including Mr Justice Visram, were suitable to continue serving in the Judiciary.
The others are Justices Philip Tunoi, Philip Waki, Onyango Otieno and Erastus Githinji.
Justice minister Eugene Wamalwa said that the vetting was necessary to restore public confidence in the Judiciary which is a critical institution in the country.
“This is a step we have taken as a country to restore public confidence in this critical institution,” said Mr Wamalwa, saying that the loss of confidence in the Judiciary was the root cause of the 2007/08 post-election violence.
“As we move forward, there will be collateral damage and we should be prepared to pay the price to ensure that the reforms in all arms of government are achieved.”
He added that all appointees to public office will be vetted, including aspirants for elective offices.
The four judges who were dropped have seven days to appeal the vetting board’s decision. Eric Mutua, the chairman of the Law Society of Kenya, said the vetting board had shown that judges had been accorded a fair hearing and, therefore, convinced that the findings in the report were justified.
“We are happy with the findings of the board,” said Mr Mutua. “All cases of dissent were mentioned, and the reasons given- that is a focused jurisprudence.”
Felix Okatch, who heads the Public Affairs Committee at the Association of Professional Societies in East Africa (APSEA), concurred that the vetting of the judges was critical in restoring confidence and ethics in the public sector.
“It is true that some past adjudication left a lot to be desired, one would wonder if judgements were delivered from the law,” said Mr Okatch. “We are confident that the vetting exercise will promote professionalism in service delivery and governance.”
Mr Justice Omollo was accused of authoritarianism on the Bench and inconsistency on different adjudications with the board arriving at a consensus that he “contributed significantly and in a lasting way to the loss of public confidence in the judiciary”.
The judge had also in his own admission to the board stated that the Judiciary, himself included, had failed Kenyans and victims of the Nyayo House torture chambers.
The members of the vetting board felt that Mr Justice Omollo had lacked independence and failed to show impartiality in cases involving senior officials in the Moi administration.
Mr Justice Bosire - who failed to clinch the Chief Justice and Supreme Court appointments - was accused of failing to protect the national interests in the commission of inquiry he headed and which had been established to investigate the Goldenberg scandal through which the country lost Sh5.8 billion in fictitious compensation claims.
The board felt that he failed to summon key witnesses in the scandal including Mr Moi, former powerful minister Nicholas Biwott and one time Finance minister Musalia Mudavadi — even when he had the powers to do so.Mr Justice O’Kubasu faced accusations of corruption by accepting “gifts” from a litigant in a case involving his friend who was facing an eviction; the judge ruled in the friend’s favour, granting a stay.
Mr Justice Nyamu was accused of lacking professionalism, impartiality and being a stumbling block in the fight against corruption like in the Deepak Kamani case in the Triton saga.
The judge also issued a permanent stay against the prosecution of George Saitoti over the Goldenberg scandal, contrary to natural law since the Bosire Commission was still in progress.