Chief Justice hopeful lawyer Fred Ngatia has asked the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) not to discriminate against him for representing President Uhuru Kenyatta in the 2013 and 2017 presidential petitions.
Justice David Majanja, one of the JSC commissioners, had during the ongoing CJ interviews on Tuesday taken Ngatia to task over a perception of being close to the Head of State and possible influence if he succeeds David Kenani Maraga who retired in January this year.
In his response, Ngatia said the past relationship with President Kenyatta won’t affect Judicial independence and urged the commission to look at him in a holistic manner.
He explained that though he is happy to have represented, the head of state, their relationship ended at the case.
“I was appointed in 2013 to lead a team for which I am forever grateful and in 2017 I was appointed to do the same. Despite acting for the president-elect, I went back to my private practice,” said Ngatia.
The Senior Counsel argued that President Kenyatta was just a client like any other and that he has never tried to influence him or interfere with his decisions.
“No Kenyan properly informed will see me as being influenced by the President. I have worked for condemned prisoners as well as many other Kenyans and I am not in any way influenced. Do not discriminate against me for the clients I have acted for,” said Ngatia.
In the said petitions, opposition leader Raila Odinga had challenged President Kenyatta’s election in 2013 and re-election in 2017.
The President’s battery of lawyers led by Ngatia won the 2013 petition but lost the 2017 petition in which the Supreme Court nullified the presidential results and ordered a repeat election over a number of irregularities and illegalities.
On lacking experience of being a judge, Ngatia differed with the panelists for the outsider label saying he is fit for the job.
“Let us not have this distinction of insiders and outsiders. I’ve spent more hours in the Judiciary library and in courts than cumulatively a few judges have spent in their judicial life. I do not see it as a correct description to call a practitioner an outsider. I prefer you call him a consumer of judicial service,” he said.
The 64-year-old is banking on his 41 years of experience in the legal profession for the top job.
Among the things he has promised to deal with if he gets the job is a backlog of cases.
He said he will not only clear the backlog of cases but also ensure expeditious disposal of cases.
He gave an example of Singapore where he wants to borrow from.
“Singapore had a huge backlog of cases and. Within four years they did overcome that backlog and simultaneously put in place a system I am craving for which ensured cases are being dealt with in good time,” Ngatia said.
“It’s one of the shining examples of what can be done in a short time. I will be the CJ that will end the backlog and have expeditious disposal of cases as the court.”
As the judiciary boss, he said, he will ensure criminal cases will be concluded in six months.
“I would not be a CJ where criminal cases take so long that witnesses disappear and acquittals are granted,” he said.
Other candidates eyeing the CJ post include lawyer Philip Murgor, Justice Said Chitembwe, Prof Patricia Mbote, Justice Martha Koome, Justice Marete Njagi, Justice Nduma Nderi, Justice William Ouko, Dr Wekesa Moni and Alice Yano.