One of the most (mis)used phrases in official script by those who want to suck up to those in authority is “Thank you for finding time out of your busy schedule…” And Dr Willy Mutunga’s classic rejoinder has always been “What busy schedule?” He had no illusions as to the vastness of his ‘power’. With this unpretentiousness came his distaste for bureaucracy, which is how he set about demystifying his Office, and becoming the people’s CJ. He has never been out of reach, not if he can help it. And as he took his bow last month, the former CJ spoke to the Nairobi Law Monthly’s Kevin Motaroki about his tenure, highs and the lows, as well as bonus thoughts on who the real enemies of the Judiciary in the other two arms of government are.
Would you describe your tenure as a ride, or more of a trip you had to take?
This has been a mission, a very important tour of duty for the country. I am so glad that I took up this assignment as it has permitted me to advance, in a very strategic and consequential place, the cause of change that has been an integral part of my life. As I said in my valedictory statement, mine was to try and get my paragraph right, in the long story of Kenya and that of the Judiciary, and I like how it reads. I want to thank the judiciary family, as well as the pivotal role and support of the JSC, in making this journey eminently successful.
What has been your most profound achievement?
I have always emphasised that the achievements we’ve had are borne out of collective leadership. I have never liked the “cult of personality” that glorifies whoever is the leader in the eyes of the public. That is how we have come to the refrain, “unsung heroines and heroes”. The achievements have been numerous, and one would better think of them in terms of our terms of reference upon appointment.
One: reclaiming independence of the Judiciary. We have made a judiciary that no one takes for granted anymore – it’s an institution of consequence in terms of inter-branch relations, and yet one that also engages other arms and agencies of government – including non government institutions and sectors, from a point of confidence, not isolationism.
Two: upholding the Constitution. I am so proud of our judges and magistrates for standing up for the constitution.
Three: reduction of case backlogs. This we have done from over 1,000,000 to just about 420,000 – and for the Court of Appeal, backlog has effectively disappeared, with some stations hearing appeals in real time. In fact, it is lawyers who are now complaining that they are not ready to proceed. Some old cases, such as Koinange and others, which had stalled in the system for over 30 years, have now been cleared.
Four: expanding access to justice. We have opened three more Court of Appeal stations, 20 High Court stations, 10 Magistrates Courts, and some of these in marginalised areas. We have also increased the number of judges from 53 to 136, magistrates by another 146 and Kadhis by 41 (and introduced a scheme of service for them). We have also increased mobile courts from 19 to 52 within the same budget line.