CJ Maraga warns judges using Covid-19 excuse to skip duty

Chief Justice David Maraga, chair of the National Council on the Administration of Justice (NCAJ), addresses the media outside the Supreme Court premises on April 21, 2020. PHOTO COURTESY

Chief Justice David Maraga has reprimanded a section of judges and magistrates who are not working following the partial shutdown of courts to combat spread of the coronavirus.

In an internal memo to the judges, Mr Maraga said a few of the judicial officers are frustrating and sabotaging the Judiciary’s efforts to conduct proceedings remotely and as a result the institution ‘is being barraged with all manner of complaints and insults’.

Though courts have moved away from hearing cases once a week, the CJ said he was shocked to learn that some judges and magistrates are claiming they are hearing matters only on Thursdays.

In the memo, Mr Maraga directed that all pending judgments and rulings must be written and delivered by May 30, 2020.

“Those scheduled to be delivered later than that date should, with notice to the parties, be brought forward for us to demonstrate that we are indeed working,” said the CJ.

In addition, Mr Maraga directed that with effect from Thursday next week judges and magistrates should send him monthly returns of the work done. They are also required to copy the reports to directorate of performance management until further notice.

Since some courts are holding virtual proceedings to prevent staff, lawyers and litigants from contracting the coronavirus disease, Mr Maraga told the judicial officers with challenges of using technology to seek assistance from the Judiciary’s ICT department.

“Colleagues, let me make it quite clear that we are all on duty. I will not allow any of us to cause problems to the entire institution. If you have any challenge with technology seek assistance from our ICT team. Those of you who have no Wi-Fi at home should work from their chambers and if they have none there, they should seek assistance from the chief registrar,” said Mr Maraga.

The Judiciary staff including the judges and magistrates are reluctant to return to work, saying the reopening of courts will expose them to the deadly coronavirus.

In a joint letter by three staff members associations – Kenya Judges Welfare Association, Kenya Magistrate and Judges Association and Kenya Judiciary Staff Association – they told Justice Maraga that their well being and health is paramount.

They had demanded provision of gloves, sanitisers, thermo, N95 face masks, dust coats and other protective gear.

“We should get a written assurance from the health insurers that the members’ medical cover will not be jeopardized by the unreasonable exposure to the pandemic,” reads the letter signed by Justice Alfred Mabeya, Justice Jacqueline Kamau and Mr Sango Maewa.

But following the CJ’s memo, Milimani High Court Criminal Division presiding judge Jessie Lessit has told all staff including the judges working at the station to report back to work on Monday.

“Once you report back you should be cooperative and perform all tasks assigned by the executive officer and deputy registrars,” said Justice Lessit.

Chief Registrar Anne Amadi had in a separate memo to the staff indicated that she had written to the Ministry of Health urging it to audit courtrooms and advise on safety measures applicable to prevent spread of the coronavirus.

She said that up scaling of court operations is contingent upon the Health Ministry providing guidelines for each individual court station.

“This is in recognition of the fact that our physical infrastructure differs from station to station and a uniform application of the preventive guidelines would not be practical,” said Ms Amadi.

By Cedrick Harvey