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Kenya: No place for unethical judges: President Mwai Kibaki's war on corruption is catching some big fish, this time from the judiciary.

Following a four-month investigation by Justice Aaron Ringera, 23 judges and 82 magistrates, including some of the best known and most senior in the country, have been suspended for corruption and other offences.

Listed on what has been described as the "Ringera List of Shame", the judges were given the option to either resign quietly or face immediate disciplinary tribunals.

The names of the judges--six from the Appeal Court and 17 from the High Court, were published on 15 October in a special issue of the Kenya Gazette. They were suspended with immediate effect until disciplinary tribunals announced their findings.

In Kenya, judges enjoy security of tenure under the constitution and can only be removed by the president on the recommendation of a disciplinary tribunal. Or they can simply resign.

Tribunals are rare in Kenya, the last one was set up in March 2003 to consider allegations against the former chief justice, Bernard Chunga, who stepped down before the tribunal sat.

The allegations against the 23 judges include bribery amounting to more than Kshl5m used to buy off an entire bench of Appeal Court judges, and sexual harassment of a female magistrate.

The accusations were detailed in a report published by a committee chaired by Justice Aaron Ringera that looked into allegations of corruption within the judiciary.

Justice Ringera is the former head of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority His committee found that there was "credible" and "well founded" evidence of a range of offences, including "direct corruption", "abuse of office" "want of integrity", "unethical conduct" and "judicial misbehaviour".

The report was presented to Chief Justice Evan Gicheru on 3 October. He promised "immediate action" which came on 15 October, when he announced that all the judges mentioned in the report would be given two weeks to resign, or if they chose to stay, face disciplinary tribunals.

The publication of the Gazette notices, each signed by President Kibaki, followed a hectic day in the courts.

In the meantime, the Law Society of Kenya has prepared a list of "suitable" lawyers to replace the judges expected to resign or be sacked.

According to the Ringera Report, one of the affected judges demanded a Ksh3m bribe to dismiss a civil application. Another judge is said to have helped a counsel draft pleadings, including an affidavit of a case he was hearing. One paragraph of the affidavit, the Report said, was in the judge's own handwriting. It is claimed that the judge did all that for a "fee" (in simple English, a bribe).

Another judge reportedly presided over an appeal despite having previously been disqualified from hearing it because of this intimate relationship with the appellant for whom he was the legal consultant. The appellant won the appeal and was given damages in excess of Ksh 100m.

The same judge, it is alleged, was the conduit through which bribes from a prominent Kenyan were delivered to other judges four in the Court of Appeal and two in the High Court.

The same judge is, again, said to have received a Ksh 15m bribe from a leading businessman to influence fellow judges in a case they were hearing. In the end, he could not influence his colleagues and he is still repaying the bribe in instalments to the businessman.

According to the report, one of the judges had close relations with a well-known convicted drug dealer. The judge regularly visited the man and his family's home while criminal cases against them were pending before him.

Yet another judge was caught red-handed by a lawyer stuffing cash into his pockets while in his chambers. When challenged about his impartiality in the case before him, the judge promptly threatened to have the lawyer thrown into jail.

The purge of the judiciary is President Kibaki's strongest message yet that his government means business with the war on corruption. Kenyans are, however, praying that the broom is extended to all other arms of the government.
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Title Annotation:Around Africa
Author:Njururi, Blamuel
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:6KENY
Date:Dec 1, 2003
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