Chief Justice Martha Koome has sparked a standoff with Parliament after questioning MPs’ authority to oversee the Judiciary and the Judicial Service Commission.
Koome in a July 7 letter addressed to Speakers Justin Muturi (National Assembly) and Kenneth Lusaka (Senate) directed the Judiciary not to engage any House committees until a meeting is convened to resolve what she termed as micromanagement of the Judiciary.
She noted that JSC is independent and not subject to direction or control by any person or authority.
Citing a decision on petition No.13 518 of 2013, Judicial Service Commission vs Speaker of the National Assembly and eight others, Koome said the oversight role of the National Assembly has bounds.
“The judges in this case went to great lengths to distinguish between matters falling within the lawful and proper oversight by Parliament and those that were out of bounds for Parliament because they amounted to micromanagement of the JSC in its assigned functions,” Koome said in the letter.
“Flowing from this judgment, it is our considered view that some of the recent inquiries by the National Assembly offend the constitutional safeguards on the independence of the Judicial Service Commission.”
The CJ further noted that some of the inquiries by Parliament expose the Judiciary, as they do not safeguard the confidentiality of the commission’s deliberations.
She maintained that the 2013 judgment that creates boundaries for parliamentary oversight will be the Judiciary’s irreducible minimum while engaging the two Houses.
“I am keen to explore constructive engagement with both Houses of Parliament, particularly on the accountability of the Judiciary, all within the permissible bounds of our respective constitutional mandates,” the letter says.
The CJ told the two Speakers that both the Judiciary and the commission will not honour any invite by any of the parliamentary committees until a meeting is convened to resolve the issue.
“Against this backdrop, I recommend that we hold a joint consultative forum with the leadership of the Houses and the various committees as a matter of priority so that these issues can be resolved at the earliest opportunity,” she said.
“The Judiciary respectfully awaits the resolution of the issues raised above before engaging with the committees of Parliament pursuant to the summonses issued to the Chief Registrar and the Judicial Service Commission outlined above.”
In the four-page letter, the CJ also protested against “frequent, multiple, overlapping and duplicating” summonses from Parliament’s committees, a situation she said threatens the functions of the Judiciary and JSC.
She cited a case of July 8, 2020 where Chief Registrar Anne Amadi was required to appear before three different committees of the National Assembly and Senate.
The new developments could strain further the relationship between the two arms of government, which suffered bad blood during retired Chief Justice David Maraga’s term.
The fresh tiff emerged after Amadi failed to appear before the Public Accounts Committee chaired by Ugunja MP Opiyo Wandayi to respond to audit queries raised by Auditor General Nancy Gathungu in her 2018-19 report.
Speaking to the Star yesterday, Wandayi said the oversight committee will write to Speaker Muturi to give a ruling on Koome’s letter even as he maintained that the current law does not shield the Judiciary from scrutiny.
“As PAC we are never on any fishing expedition, we simply examine the report of Auditor General and have to deal with issues raised in that report. We are properly seized of the matter and we are waiting for the ruling of the Speaker,” he said.
“So long as the law and the Constitution remain as they are, the Auditor General must audit (the Judiciary), and once they have audited and done a report, Parliament must scrutinise that report.”
Edited by Henry Makori