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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Judge on the dock for attempted murder. Sigh...

NAIROBI - In an unprecedented move, a sitting High Court judge was on Tuesday charged with attempted murder, throwing the Judiciary into a dilemma on whether he should be allowed to continue hearing cases.

The Kericho-based Mr Justice GBM Kariuki appeared before senior principal magistrate Stella Muketi and denied the charge. High Court registrar Lydia Achode said that the Judicial Service Commission would meet and decide whether the judge can continue discharging his duties. “It is the first time a sitting judge has been charged so we do not know what to do but the commission will deliberate on the issue. If it was a magistrate, for instance, the Judiciary can easily take action and even suspend him but judges have security of tenure,” Ms Achode said.

The judge shared the dock with fellow lawbreakers as he waited for his turn to plead to the charge. He stood up when his name was read out by the court clerk and answered to the single charge saying, “I deny.” The judge, according to the charge sheet, attempted to cause the death of Robert Karori on October 18 along Lower Kabete road in Spring Valley, Nairobi, by stabbing him in the stomach with a sharp object. The magistrate gave him a Sh500,000 (about $7,200) free bond and scheduled his case for hearing on November 26. (When one is given a free bond, he doesn’t need to deposit money in court but signs the bond document instead. This bond is normally given to individuals who the court believes will show up for the trial and cannot abscond.)

Road rage
The offence of attempted murder is bailable and carries a maximum of life Imprisonment if one is convicted. The judge found himself in a road rage scuffle on Lower Kabete road in which a motorist was stabbed. The motorist was admitted to MP Shah Hospital. When interviewed, Judges said the fact that Mr Justice Kariuki is charged doesn’t mean that he should be stopped from hearing cases. One of them said that so long as the judge signed the bond, he shouldn’t be stopped from discharging his duties of dispensing justice. This was because he would be treated as innocent until proven guilty and therefore the mere fact of facing a charge didn’t earn him a suspension or even dismissal from work.

The Law Society of Kenya also agreed with the position taken by the judges, saying mere charging in court did not make one guilty. The society’s vice-chairman Aggrey Mwamu said the matter needed to go to full trial for the innocence of the judge or lack of it to be determined. At the moment, Mwamu said, it would be premature to call for the judge’s suspension as it was not clear whether he was innocent or guilty.

However, in the event Chief Justice Evan Gicheru decides to bring charges of misconduct against the judge then it will be a different story altogether. If the Chief Justice brings a charge of misconduct, he will then be expected to advise the President to set up a tribunal to investigate the conduct of a judge. The tribunal will have to hear evidence from both sides. And if the tribunal finds a judge guilty then it will send a recommendation for sacking of the judge and indicate the reasons for its conclusion.

But if it finds no wrongdoing on the part of the judge it will declare him or her innocent and fit to hold public office.

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