By: Kamande Muchiri @MountKenyaTimes
The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) chaired by interim vice-chairperson of the commission, Prof Olive Mugenda continues vetting candidates shortlisted for the position of Chief Justice.
Yesterday, Justice Mathew Nduma Nderi of the Employment and Labour Relations Court took the stage as the sixth candidate.
Boasting a legal career of 31 years, Justice Nderi said his vast legal experience in the field of conflict management made him the best-suited candidate to become Kenya’s third Chief Justice under the 2010 Constitution.
Justice Nderi said that his ability to find remedies for conflict and unite warring parties in a dispute is what Kenya needs at the moment duet the existing strained relations between the Judiciary and the Executive.
“I must say that I have very good skills in conflict management in consensus building which I believe is very crucial in the office that I am seeking today,” he told JSC.
The soft-spoken 59 years old Judge revealed that over the years in his practice mostly when he served in Swaziland as the crown’s counsel and the President Judge of the Industrial Court, he established himself as a “servant leader” who took pride in “delegating and direct leadership.”
“I believe in participatory initiatives and delegating to team because I strongly believe in the teams that I work with. I am very easy to work with and amiable. I have found myself everywhere I have been easy and comfortable with people I never have any difficulties in my court proceedings in all those years I have been a Judge,” he said.
The Masters of Laws holder from University of Stellenbosch has also served in Arusha, Tanzania where he worked as the principal legal counsel for the East African Community, between 2008 and July 2012.
Justice Nderi who was taken to task in the manner in which he will handle presidential petitions said he will “not make haste to give a ruling on such a weighty matter” once confirmed and appointed Kenya’s new Chief Justice.
He noted that the previous rulings which were issued by Chief Justices Willy Mutunga and David Maraga in 2013 and in 2017 respectively had disparities citing the manner in which the transmission of votes issue was interpreted by the two Judges.
Justice Nderi particularly opined that such petitions ought to be exclusively determined by the standard of proof of accuracy and transparency before a determination is given.
The Judge also said once he becomes the Chief Justice, he intended to develop a road map to address career progression and promotions.
“The level of dissatisfaction at career progression in the Judiciary in my view, I believe, I would want to engage that area,” said Justice Nderi.
He added that he would also develop a framework to address dispute resolution in the judiciary.
Further, on the court users, Justice Nderi said that he plans to increase the capacity of the judiciary to minimise the time taken to make a judgment on a case.
This he said would be his master plan in dealing with the problem of backlog of cases.
On the other hand, the judge noted that there was no clear process of recruiting in the Kadhi’s court.
“Lack of a clear structure on how to appoint a Kadhi has led to the violation of some Muslims’ rights which when I am Chief Justice, I will address,” explained Justice Nderi.
The judge was at pains to defend his work-pressure threshold, given the fact that he fled the country in the 1990s due to what he termed as State intimidation.
In response to JSC commissioner Mohammed Warsame’s question about whether he would stay given the strained relationship between the State and the Judiciary, he stated that the 2010 constitution heralded a new era.
“Times have changed under the new constitution, at the time I had received real threats while discharging my duty. I am very courageous. A job had also arisen in Swaziland, and it was an opportunity for me. Very few would have dared to take the role I took at the time,” Justice Nderi said.
The judge, who left Kenya at the age of 28, told the panel that the country’s situation was so bad at the time, that his friends did not attend his wedding at St. Paul’s Chapel in Nairobi for fear of being targeted by the State.
According to the judge, the then CID boss was feared by all and sundry and summons from him rarely went well.
Justice Nderi had been summoned by the then Criminal Investigations Department to explain the scope of his work.
Justice Nderi also passionately advocated for a transparent vetting process of complaints against judges and magistrates before they are presented before the JSC.
He argued that currently there is no legal framework within the Judiciary system that clearly stipulates how dispute resolution should be handled and as a result he observed that a lot of time is wasted in cases against judges especially when they are finally thrown out.
Justice Nderi at the same defended his judgement where he awarded teachers a 50-60 percent pay rise in 2015 and stated that teachers had compelling evidence to support the pay hike.
“I believe still do date that if it were not for that decision whether it was nullified after that the situation of teachers in the country would not have changed,” he said.
He told the panel that he would also upscale and consolidate the gains made so far in the access to justice and delivery of justice to the people of Kenya in an expeditious, fair, equitable manner.
Today (Tuesday) April 20, seasoned lawyer and Senior Counsel Fred Ngatia is set to face the interviewing panel.