Sharp differences have emerged in the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) following the election of the male representative to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), Macharia Njeru. And the animosity among two rival camps is unsettling.
Njeru, who previously served as the chairperson of the Independent Police Oversight Authority (Ipoa), was sworn in yesterday and vowed to champion the interests of LSK members and the autonomy of the Judiciary.
In the divided LSK house, there are three distinct camps but the silent majority dealt outsmartedthe other two and deal a devastating blow to long-serving JSC Commissioner Tom Ojienda, who managed 2,545 votes against Njeru’s 2,738 votes during the hotly contested polls last Thursday.
Ojienda had launched a well-oiled campaign countrywide, but Njeru made a convincing personal outreach to mostly senior members of the bar who came out to vote in defiance of recent resolutions regarding nomination rules.
On Tuesday, Ojienda wrote to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission seeking details of the number of registered voters and votes cast, number of polling stations and the names of officers who presided over the exercise in anticipation of moving to court to challenge Macharia’s nomination.
Most of those who voted for Njeru felt that Ojienda, who served along with female representative Mercy Deche, had “heavy personal baggage” over his tax dispute with the Kenya Revenue Authority and the professional fee suits against the Nairobi county government.
Njeru was sworn in alongside High Court Judge David Majanja, at a ceremony witnessed by Chief Justice David Maraga at the Supreme Court in Nairobi, and will join nine other commissioners of the highest decision-making organ of the Judiciary. Justice Maraga welcomed the appointment of the two commissioners and advised them to ensure the Judiciary achieves improved accountability and efficiency.
“Your first duty is to ensure the rule of law is guaranteed and that the provisions of the Constitution are adhered to,” he said.
Long before the LSK elections, Ojienda was involved in a spat with the society’s President Allen Gichuhi, who chose to remain non-partisan.
On Monday, in a statement seen by pundits as confirmation of triumph against rebel forces, Gichuhi said Njeru’s victory signaled, “a new beginning” for the LSK. Ojienda’s term ended on April 3.
The major bone of contention among lawyers is the sanctioning, by a slim majority, for a review of a statutory provision in the LSK Act requiring candidates for the JSC to seek clearance from the KRA and the Higher Education Loans Board. Many of the members feel that only persons of integrity and high professional standards deserve to be elected to serve in the commission.
In a bold move, Njeru pledged to safeguard the independence of JSC and promised never to appear before courts and tribunals to represent clients, a practice he said would amount to conflict of interest.
“Lawyers are clear that they do not want a member of the commission to appear before judges and tribunals. I verily believe that it is not right for me as a commissioner to appear before the same judges, magistrates, and tribunals which I am probably responsible for their appointment and disciplinary process,” he said.
He pledged to work towards improved bar-bench relations and efficient utilisation of funds allocated to the Judiciary to guarantee first class services to citizens.
“Lawyers want a JSC and Judiciary that is independent of both State and non-State actors. Lawyers have given me strict instructions to pass a message that they do not want cartels’ capture of the Judiciary whether by internal or external players. Lawyers insist they want a corruption-free Judiciary,” Njeru had said in his acceptance speech.