What does Kenya’s High Court ruling on the civil society challenge to Uhuru and Ruto eligibility for election say about the state of Kenya’s judiciary?

The Nairobi media reporting is a bit garbled but the gist of things is that the Kenyan High Court (as opposed to the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court) has dismissed a petition filed some months ago by civil society groups, including significantly the Kenyan Chapter of the International Commission of Jurists, challenging the eligibility of many of the candidates for President of Kenya on the basis of the “integrity” provisions of the new Kenyan Constitution.

Almost 13 months ago I posted that it was time for Kenya’s judicial system to answer the question posed regarding the application of these constitutional provisions to the candidacy of those facing confirmed charges from the International Criminal Court.  Unfortunately, even though the election has ended up being set for a delayed date, the Kenyan court system has still managed to let the clock seemingly run out without reaching any clarity or finality, such that the election is expected to proceed with the “Uhuruto” ticket on the ballot.

Without having a copy of an opinion yet, from the media reports, the High Court ruled that it did not have jurisdiction over the challenge because the constitution vests exclusive jurisdiction in the Supreme Court over challenges involving the nomination and election to the presidency and that further the jurisdiction of the Kenyan courts and ICC was concurrent and with the ICC case proceeding only the ICC could bar the indictees from running for office.

As an American rather than Kenyan lawyer, and having not read the opinion, I don’t want to go too far into the details here, but I would note that (1) Ruto as opposed to Uhuru is no longer running for president, so the practical question now for his eligibility is distinguishable; (2) the High Court has original jurisdiction to interpret the provisions of the constitution, which seems to me to clearly be the issue here–as opposed to a more ordinary nomination or election challenge which would seem to me to be a more plain way to interpret the various constitutional provisions as a whole.

Here is a long quote from the Daily Nation story “Jubilee, Cord plaud ruling on eligibility case”:

Mr Odinga on his part said he respected the ruling saying that the court had held that in matters relating to the presidential election, the Supreme Court had ‘exclusive and original jurisdiction.’

“I have repeatedly said that my main competitor should have the opportunity to face me in a free and fair election whose outcome is determined by the people of Kenya,” said Mr. Odinga upon hearing of the Court’s decision.

But Restore and Build Kenya (RBK) presidential candidate Prof James Ole Kiyiapi accused the judges of failing to give Kenyans directions on matters of integrity.

“By declaring that they lack jurisdiction, Kenyan courts have failed to give the country direction on matters of integrity as outlined in chapter six of the constitution,” he stated.

The five High court judges – Mbogholi Msagha, Luka Kimaru, George Kimondo, Pauline Nyamweya and Hellen Omondi – dismissed a petition filed by civil society groups challenging Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto;s suitability to run for the presidency and deputy presidency as they face serious crimes at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The Judges ruled that despite the serious nature of the crimes facing Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto at the ICC, they are still presumed innocent until the contrary happens.

“It is common knowledge the two have been indicted but since Kenyan courts and the ICC are of concurrent jurisdiction, we cannot adjudicate over the same matter. Only the ICC can bar them to run for public office,” ruled the judges.

They ruled that the High Court had no jurisdiction to hear any petition relating to presidential candidates’ nomination.

So I tend to agree with Prof. Ole Kiyiapi that the High Court has ducked the issue and left a real lack of clarity as to the meaning of the constitution.  The problem is appeals and further proceedings are now unlikely to have time to be resolved before March 4.

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One thought on “What does Kenya’s High Court ruling on the civil society challenge to Uhuru and Ruto eligibility for election say about the state of Kenya’s judiciary?

  1. Pingback: At Easter, chicks come home to roost for U.S. on underwriting impunity in Kenya; but “we” do not need Uhuruto | AfriCommons Blog

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