Budget cuts hit Judiciary hard, delay justice in crucial lawsuits
The country was by yesterday staring at a courts crisis with several adjournments and suspension of key programmes reported as budget cuts in the Judiciary began to bite.
A number of cases were adjourned at the last minute after judges failed to turn up in their stations because of transport challenges and other logistical shortcomings blamed on lack of funds.
The situation has been exacerbated by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s rejection of a list of 41 new appellate judges presented to him for gazettement by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) four months ago. Reports say the Head of State maintains that some of the nominees are tainted with corruption.
Last week, acting Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani announced new austerity measures after it emerged the government was struggling to meet its obligations.
Yesterday, the hearing of a case in which 600 settlers of Maasai Mau Forest are challenging an impending eviction was adjourned at the last minute after a three-judge bench scheduled to sit at the High Court in Nakuru did not materialise.
The case filed by Joseph Kimeto ole Mapelu and 12 others was scheduled for hearing before Justices Sila Munyao, Muhammed Kullow and George Ongondo, all from the Land and Environment division.
A message pinned on the notice board by the court registrar blamed the recent budget cuts for the adjournment.
“Due to Judiciary budget cut, we have been unable to facilitate the three judges... The parties will be notified of new dates through their advocates once directions are given,” the notice read.
The notice seemed to have caught lawyers Kipkoech Ng’etich and Kimutai Bosek, who are representing the petitioners, by surprise. They protested the move to cut funding to the Judiciary, terming it as an affront on justice and democracy.
A similar message was posted at the Malindi Law Courts notice, advising parties with cases in the Employment and Labour court that the matters will now be handled in Mombasa because of budget constraints.
This means Kenyans looking for justice will have to incur extra costs while some cases will be delayed.
“Judiciary is an independent arm of government and should be given the freedom to run its affairs independently. We completely oppose the move taken by Executive and condemn it in the strongest terms possible,” said Ng’etich.
He said the move would affect delivery of justice and urged Kenyans to join the legal fraternity in opposing it.
Senior counsel Ahmednasir Abdullahi said services in the Court of Appeal will shrink by 70 per cent by December. “Many courts will shut down by December,” he said in his Twitter handle.
Other stations where services were paralysed include Kapenguria, Bungoma, Busia, Kakamega, Kwale, Kapsabet, Thika, Garissa and Machakos.
Last week, Kapenguria High Court judge Ruth Sitati announced the suspension of mobile court services because of budget constraints. The mobile courts were introduced last year to serve Alale in Pokot North and Sigor in Pokot Central sub-counties which are about 100km away from Kapenguria.
“The exercise requires funds which were not allocated during the financial year and we hope the problem will be sorted out as soon as possible. I know the distance from Alale to Kapenguria courts is far but we are requesting witnesses to ensure they attend court when required,” she said.
The move has angered the Law Society of Kenya which has sought court orders to reverse Yatani’s decision. In a statement yesterday, the LSK representative in the Judicial Service Commission Macharia Njeru, termed the move “a shocker and unacceptable”, warning that services in the Judiciary will be grounded.
Njeru said funds allocation to the Judiciary was insufficient. “And, to cut it even further can only have the effect of grinding to a halt the operations of this critical arm of government...” he said.
Administration of justice is critical for the rule of law and sustainability of the economy, said Njeru, adding: “This is unacceptable coming against the backlog of cases the Judiciary is grappling with.”
He said the decision will have adverse effects on the economy especially considering the role Judiciary plays in settling disputes. “How is Judiciary going to do this if it is grossly underfunded?” he asked, adding that funds allocated for the Judiciary digitisation project had already been withdrawn.
“These actions, apart from being illegal, undermine the country’s prospect of having a robust, dependable Judiciary for the people of Kenya. It further diminishes prospects of Kenya as an attractive destination for investors,” he added, calling for a speedy resolution of the crisis.
Through Aluso Ingati Advocates, LSK terms the action by Yatani “an outright violation of the Constitution”. The case was filed on Friday in a Nairobi High Court.
The society is seeking an order restraining the Executive from interfering with the Judiciary’s budget, as approved by the National Assembly, pending an inter-parties’ hearing and determination of the suit.
In a circular dated September 24, sent to CSs and accounting officers, Yatani proposes drastic budgetary cuts on recurrent and development funds. Judiciary was allocated Sh18.8 billion in the 2019/20 budget while Parliament got Sh43.6 billion.
He directed all ministries, departments and agencies to rationalise expenditure to address prevailing revenue shortfalls, with an aim of funding the Jubilee government’s Big Four development agenda.
In a sworn affidavit, LSK chief executive Mercy Wambua says the move by Yatani to cut 50 per cent of the Judiciary budget will paralyse its operations.
Some of the programmes already affected by the austerity measures include the judicial service week, operations of mobile courts and tribunal sittings.
The rollout of the ICT programme and internet services to all courts is also in jeopardy.