Judging Chief Justice Mutunga, One Year On
This week, the country marked one year of Dr Willy Mutunga as the Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court of Kenya. There were no fireworks, no fancy speeches and definitely no fêtes for the man of the moment.
Instead, it was a low-key affair that belied the significance of the 365-day milestone in the long journey to the promised land of judicial transformation. By nature, Dr Mutunga is a self-effacing man who shuns pageantry for substance. And that is the approach the new Chief Justice has tried to inculcate in the Judiciary since he took over slightly over a year ago.
When Mutunga ascended to the position of CJ, he made a number of promises under what he termed as his "pact with Kenyans". Key among these promises was the pledge that the time for transformation had come and that it would not be business as usual in the Judiciary any longer.
When he embarked on the journey to transform the Judiciary, Dr Mutunga was acutely aware of the humongous task ahead. And for this reason, the new CJ needed a ‘dream team’ that he would work with to translate his vision of a transformed judiciary into tangible reality.
In her capacity as the new chief registrar of the judiciary, Gladys Boss Shollei, a city lawyer full of bubbly energy, leads the ‘dream team’ comprising of managers drawn from the private sector and experts in various strategic disciplines.
A walk around the corridors of the Judiciary leaves one clearly feeling that the transformation has indeed begun. Though quiet, organised and very clean, there is an electrifying excitement and optimism in the air. Gone are judges dressed in odd-looking and intimidating ‘Shakespearean stage costumes’ and horsehair wigs in the often-steaming weather of the tropics.
These discernible changes alone are indicative confirmation that indeed Dr Willy Mutunga and his ‘dream team’ mean business when they talk about transformation of the Judiciary.
Under Chief Justice Mutunga, there is a redefined mandate of the Judiciary, which now is;
· To expeditiously administer justice to all irrespective of status (remember in an era gone by, equality in the eyes of Justice was just a mere statement)
· To administer justice without undue regard to procedural technicalities (remember in previous administrations, the judiciary was captive to undue procedure, outdated traditions and adherence to other colonial relics)
· To promote alternative forms of dispute resolution.
These are objectives that resonate very well with a country that was used to a judiciary that existed in name only.
Fruits of Willy Mutunga-led judicial transformation of course will not be instant. This is a long journey, but one that will bear moral fruits for us and future generation because now we have a leadership in the Judiciary that is visionary and courageous enough to admit mistakes, make consultations and embark on path to remedy.
As the new Chief Justice and his team keep pushing the reform agenda, they will, naturally, meet with stiff and organised resistance. For starters, the judiciary is one of the most conservative institutions world-over and tends to resist change almost at all costs. Kenya is no different. Indeed, the grapevine already has it that some of the old school judges and senior magistrates are so alarmed by the transformation taking place in the judiciary that they have been secretly caucusing to come up with strategies to rewind the clock of change.
On the political front, things have also not been very quiet either. Some politicians have been alarmed by the judiciary’s newfound independence and they too would love nothing better than to see Dr Willy Mutunga fail and the judiciary revert to the “good old days" when justice was for sale to the highest bidder or was dispensed at the direction, discretion and prescription of State House.
Kenyans have invested a lot of faith, trust, goodwill and national confidence in the Judiciary under Willy Mutunga. It would be a disaster of catastrophic proportions if, for any number of reasons, Dr Mutunga and his team were to fail to deliver Kenya to the promised judicial land. The roadmap that Dr Willy Mutunga and his team will be using to get Kenya to the promised land is a document entitled “Judiciary Transformation Framework—2012 to 2016”.
It is a first-rate and ambitious document and one, which if implemented to the full, could see the judiciary, become the pillar not just for justice but indeed the pillar upon which the country’s transformation into a developed nation will be pegged. As the country gets into general elections mood, more and more Kenyans will be looking upon the judiciary to provide unbiased direction and guidance on contentious legal issues around elections.
So far, the new-look judiciary has shown that it has the mettle to stand up against anyone who attempts to impinge on its independence—irrespective of his or her political standing. That is, as it ought to be. Under the transforming Judiciary, the words of the National Anthem that “Justice be Our Shield and Defender” no longer ring hollow. With a working judiciary, these inspiring wordsnow resonate with meaning and sense.