High Court Judge Said Juma Chitembwe

High Court Judge Said Juma Chitembwe who has accused the DCI of twisting facts to justify his unlawful arrest.

| File | Nation Media Group

JSC on the spot for failing to act on petition against Juma Chitembwe

The Judiciary has found itself on the back foot as the saga involving High Court Judge Said Juma Chitembwe unfolds following the release of video clips of him allegedly negotiating bribes.

For at least two months, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) was aware of the allegations against the judge after a petition was filed in September. In the two months, save for an acknowledgement JSC sent to the petitioner, the petition was largely ignored and the judge was never served.

“All that I can say is that let the law take its course. For the petition, I am yet to be served. I will willingly submit myself to the JSC,” the judge told the Sunday Nation when reached for comment.

In her statement following the circulation of the videos, Chief Justice Martha Koome never made any reference to the existing petition. “The Chief Justice has taken judicial notice of what has been reported in the media...The Judicial Service Commission will meet to deliberate on the issue...” she said.

Following our queries, her office indicated that the JSC will prioritise the matter and the petition will form the basis of any decision to be made.

At last week’s release of the State of the Judiciary report, President Uhuru Kenyatta, in a speech read on his behalf by Attorney-General Kihara Kariuki accused judges of shielding their own from scrutiny.

“How can the Judiciary have the moral authority to preside over corruption cases when it bars its own from the standards of accountability it applies to others?” the President posed. “How shall we win this war as a nation if a full third of the government is unwilling to face the rot within its ranks?”

“In many quarters, it is being observed that perhaps judicial officers are preaching water but drinking wine, demanding others of a standard that they are not willing to apply to themselves,” the President observed.

Land transfer

The Law Society of Kenya has also been on the JSC’s case to take up the Justice Chitembwe matter. “…a staggering amount of candidly recorded video material from within the chambers of a serving judge of Kenya’s Judiciary, capturing in his own words accounts of transactions that are utterly inimical to the status and conduct of a judicial officer. This requires urgent investigations to be undertaken before public confidence in the Judiciary is completely eroded,” said secretary Mercy Wambua.

The videos and Mr Chitembwe’s present woes arise from a succession case he presided over while in Lamu. The petitioner stated that the judge presided over the succession dispute when he had an interest in the piece of land in Kwale County.  The land was in the name of a company in which both the widow and the deceased husband held shares. However, the husband transferred his shares to the widow before he died in December 2014.

Almost a year after his death, a different woman applied for a letter of administration of the property of the deceased and was duly granted in October 2015. In granting the letter, the court also transferred the piece of land that was in the name of the widow’s company, leading her to challenge the decision.

At the Court of Appeal where the widow had moved in the hope of getting justice, justices Daniel Musinga, Gatembu Kairu, and Agnes Murgor said on October 8 that they were recusing themselves from the appeal whose hearing concluded on February 27, 2020. The judges recused themselves because of an article in the Sunday Nation of September 12 “which discussed the High Court decision that gave rise to the appeal.”

“It was claimed, inter alia, that there are video and audio recordings of a High Court judge discussing how to compromise members of this bench and how to terminate or influence the outcome of the appeal. In the circumstances, we are of the considered view that the decision of the court, whichever way it goes, shall be misconstrued as having been influenced by the unnamed High Court judge, for and on behalf of one of the parties to the appeal,” the judges said.   

Meanwhile, amid the grave allegations against him, the judge who sits at the Civil Division in Milimani Nairobi has continued discharging his duties normally. On Wednesday, a day after the first the first video was released, the judge handled 22 cases. On Thursday, as more video clips, were released, the judge presided over 17 cases.

Additional reporting by Richard Munguti