CJ Interviews: Don’t discriminate me over my ties with Uhuru, Ngatia to JSC

Wednesday, April 21st, 2021 00:00 |
Senior Counsel Fred Ngatia when he appeared before the Judicial Service Commission vetting panel at the Supreme Court in Nairobi, yesterday. Photo/PD/John Ochieng

Senior counsel Fred Ngatia yesterday dismissed fears his closeness to President Uhuru Kenyatta might interfere with the independence of the Judiciary should he be appointed the next Chief Justice.

“I was appointed in 2013 to lead a team for which I am forever grateful and in 2017, I was appointed to do the same.

Despite acting for the president-elect, I went back to my private practice. The President has at no one time tried to interfere or influence me in any decision I had made,” he said.

Ngatia, 64, defended President Kenyatta’s disputed win in the presidential petition filed by opposition leader Raila Odinga in the 2013 and 2017 presidential elections.

During the interviews for the CJ position, the veteran lawyer urged the Judicial Service Commission panel chaired by Prof Olive Mugenda to look at him in a holistic manner without discriminating against him because of representing the Head of State in the election petitions.  

“No Kenyan properly informed will see me as being influenced by the President. Do not discriminate against me because of any client I have acted for.

I have acted for the high, for the poor and those in terminal condition, judge me across board.

The President like any other Kenyan was in need of legal representation, I am not ashamed of working for him,” he said.

He explained that perceptions that he is close to the Head of State having represented him twice in the presidential election petition were a misjudgement of his character as a person and as a lawyer, insisting that his legal practice has been guided by the principles of ethics and professionalism, something he promised to carry on to the Judiciary.  

The lawyer was also put to task by JSC commissioner Everlyne Olwande to explain whether he had financed any political party in Kenya which he denied.  

Misjudgment of his character

Ngatia was also put to task to explain why KRA had not cleared him when he submitted his papers for the candidate for the position of  CJ.

But the veteran lawyer said he has since been cleared by the taxman which issued him with a tax clearance certificate. 

 “Let this process not have many actors, I have a valid tax clearance certificate.

KRA later said CJ candidates must go there, I was asked to pay Sh1 million in penalties, which I did. There seems to be a third hand in this process,” said the lawyer.

He, however, said that if appointed as the next CJ, he will  put in place a system that will ensure expeditious disposal of cases.

“I’ll be the Chief Justice who will end the backlog of cases and effect the expeditious disposal of cases,” said Ngatia, giving the example of Singapore.

“Singapore had a huge backlog of cases and within four years, they did overcome that backlog and simultaneously put in place a system I am craving for which ensured cases are being dealt with in good time,” he added.

As a CJ, he said, he will further ensure criminal cases will be concluded in six months.

“I will not be a CJ where criminal cases take so long that witnesses disappear and acquittals are granted,” he said.

Transformation agendas

Ngatia surprisingly said he was never interested in the CJ’s position before 2010 and only developed interest later.

“Before 2010, I would not have been interested in the CJ position, after 2010, I became interested to serve as a leader who will take this nation to a level of competing with Kenya’s equals in the world,” he said.

He also informed the panel he will help advance the transformation agendas of his predecessors  Willy Mutunga and David Maraga.

“For 40 years, I have been to every court in this country and I do believe that I have a practitioner’s eye that can see the weaknesses and perceived weaknesses that can be advanced to achieve justice.”  

Ngatia vowed that “corruption is a battle that must be won. It cannot reign in Judiciary, it must be conquered by the deliberate effort of the Chief Justice and other members.”

On the issue of whether an insider or an outsider should become the 15th Chief Justice, he said, merits should guide the commission saying that if appointed by the JSC, his first call of duty will be to streamline the operations of the Judiciary, including its relationship with the other arms of government, which his supporters say would be achievable due to his vast networks both inside and outside government.

Ngatia also took credit for the acquisition of land where the Kasarani Sports Complex stands.

“The then owners had objected because we were using Land Acquisition Act and the owners were saying this is nothing more than the government taking over the land for its own use,” he said. 

The interviews continue today with Court of Appeal judge William Ouko taking the hot seat. 

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