If you are an advocate, and you took out a practicing certificate in the last 18 months, you must have been inundated by calls, text messages and e-mails from the aspiring contenders for a seat on the Judiciary Service Commission. While we weigh our options, we must ask ourselves some hard questions. Are we in a position, as a Society, to play a leading role in the vetting of judicial officers prior to their employment? What are our criteria for determining the suitability of a lawyer to serve in the Judiciary? Are we looking for activist judicial officers or strict constructionists? Who among us deserves to sit in the Judiciary, or for that matter, the JSC?
The Bar and the Bench are partners in the administration of justice in Kenya and the rot that permeates the halls of justice can be laid at the doors of both. Therefore, we should not take a holier-than-thou attitude when vetting prospective members of the Judiciary, but we should approach the whole exercise with a view to improving not just the relations between the Bar and Bench, but also to improve the manner in which both conduct business.
Some years ago, an advocate was accused and ultimately found guilty of cheating the grieving widows and families of fallen prison warders of their benefits. His was the most extreme of actions but it was not unique. Allegations of advocates taking advantage of the ignorance of their clients are rampant and they have led, among other things, to the rule that awards to be paid to clients will not be lodged in accounts controlled solely by advocates. Even with these changes, advocates are still being struck off the rolls for such financial shenanigans. If these advocates are to play a role in the vetting of judicial officers, it is still possible that we may not get the Judiciary we want. Therefore, for the LSK to play a leading, commanding role in the vetting of prospective judges and magistrates, we must reform the disciplinary processes of the LSK to ensure that only the best candidates from among us get to wear the robes of the Judiciary. Then we can truly say that the partnership between the Bar and the Bench is flourishing.
Our attention on the Judiciary has not been entirely unmerited. There are judicial officers who have taken their authority in the court room to ridiculous heights, going so far as to decree what manner of dress advocates are to have and how to address the court. In some instances, these officers have been the subjects of unrest among the legal fraternity, so much so that some of our branches have gone on strike demanding that these officers be re-assigned to other duty stations. The Bar is mindful of the dignity of the Bench and it will be a pretty stupid lawyer who decides to antagonise a judicial officer handling his client's matter. But, judicial dignity is not assailed by the manner of dress by advocates and it is time that members of the Bench took cognizance of this fact. Unless an advocate has walked into the court room in his underwear, whenever he dresses decently, he should be allowed to address the court just like any other advocate.
These disputes have concentrated the minds of advocates and I believe that the ones who serve on the JSC will discharge their duty diligently and with skill. We are looking for judicial officers who display sagacity in their rulings, who are firm but fair in the management of their courts, who will display independence and courage in the face of a manipulative Executive, and who will work to ensure that justice is indeed our shield and defender. What we do not want are judicial officers who are slothful and weak-kneed, spineless yes-men in the pay or control of outside influences. We do not want persons who will make extreme judgments that are without foundation, making the Bench the pulpit for their wacky ideas. In other words, we want officers who will work to ensure that the law is interpreted correctly, fairly and imaginatively. If you do not possess any of these qualities, you need not apply. And, for God's sake, take your eyes from my 4,000-shilling suit and listen to the substance of my argument!