REMARKS BY PRESIDENT OF THE COURT OF APPEAL HON. MR. JUSTICE WILLIAM OUKO DURING THE OFFICIAL OPENING OF THE COURT OF APPEAL AT MOMBASA ON 12TH APRIL, 2019
My Lord, The Hon. David Maraga, the Chief Justice & President of the Supreme Court;
Your Excellency, Hassan Joho, the Governor of Mombasa County;
Honourable Mercy Deche, the Vice Chairperson, JSC;
Honourable Justices of the Court of Appeal;
Hon. Mr. Justice Ogola, The Presiding Judge, Mombasa High Court
Honourable Judges of the High Court & Courts of Equal Status;
The Hon. Chief Registrar, Judiciary
Hon. Registrar of the Court of Appeal and the Deputy in charge of Malindi
The Hon. Magistrates present;
Members of the Bar
The Hon Chief Kadhi
Representatives of the Offices of the DPP and Attorney General;
Honoured invited Guests.
I join those who have spoken before me to also welcome you, on behalf of the Hon. Justices and staff of the Court of Appeal to this occasion to witness the official inauguration by His Lordship the Chief Justice of this refurbished “Old Court” as it has been referred to over the years and its handing over to the Court of Appeal. (Introduce the Judges & staff).
By way of a short background, on 31st December 1902 this building put up to house the law courts, was opened by the Commissioner of British East Africa Protectorate, Sir Charles Eliot. The building has a centre block with seven roman curves and symmetrical wings. The rooms are generously laid out. Wide steps can be seen at the entrance and a clock tower sits atop the building, all these features can still be seen today. When it worked, it is said; the clock chimed every hour and was regarded as Mombasa’s standard timepiece.
As a young man growing up in this city, I was both fascinated by the architecture of this building and inspired by those who walked through the doors of the building in black robes, white shirts and wigs. The court bailiffs were in snow white uniforms. To this day I have never understood the inscription at the entrance on a stone dated 1677 which reads:
“The above inscription was taken from the ruins of Fort St Joseph erected by the Portuguese between Ras Serani and Ras Mzimli Mombasa”.
My online search left me even more confused. Perhaps historians or cartographers will one day help us understand the background to this inscription.
It is evident, though that what is now going to house the Court of Appeal in the Coastal region is indeed itself the embodiment of history of the Courts in Kenya.
For many years it is here that the Court of Appeal would sit during its circuits in this region twice a year in the months of January and July. The circuits constituted an important event in the calendar of the Judiciary. One bench (3 Judges) out of six (6) would, by road convoy from Nairobi to Mombasa with a lunch break either at Hunter’s Lodge, Makindu or Voi. Once in Mombasa each morning they would again convoy from their hotel to this building to hear appeals and render judgments. The Presiding Judge would inspect the guard. They would be received below the stairs by a quarter guard mounted by the Kenya Police, with officers dressed in full ceremonial uniform, in short a ceremony to pay compliments. They would sit on one table for their meals. The relationship between the Judges and advocates was warm and manifested mutual respect. They would occasionally have social moments when the local bar would host cocktails to share a drink. These, in my view, though mundane, were very significant and healthy traditions and practices which helped to deepened collegiality; they helped to assert the independence of the Judiciary, to draw on common sources of authority, develop a professional consciousness and overall harmony of purpose.
Things have changed. Today it has become commonplace for counsel to direct a personal and hostile attack at the magistrates and judges directly or through the mainstream and social media. With abandon, they will make grave and in most cases unsubstantiated claims against judges and magistrates over their decisions, to intimidate and harass them. This trend threatens our entire system of government. They impugn the integrity and authority of the Judiciary. It violates the Code of professional conduct of advocates, who, as agents of the administration of justice, are expected to maintain.
Judges and judicial officers are just as human and are therefore not perfect, but, in general, I personally think we should be glad and proud of the Kenya justice system for resolving societal conflicts, promoting the rule of law and the protection of constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms.
For example, it is in this building that leading and landmark decisions that have stood the test of time, such as Owners of the Motor Vessel “Lillian S” v Caltex Oil (Kenya) Ltd were rendered.
The refurbishment of this building has taken many months. At some point, some of us were almost reaching a point of hopelessness. I thank His Lordship the Chief Justice for his personal role to ensure we reach this day, the Chief Registrar for providing funds. May I single out Hon. Mr. Evans Makori, the Chief Magistrate, Mombasa for his hands-on style of administration that saw the last phase of the renovations move quite fast.
I thank the past Justices of the Court of Appeal, at Malindi who for the past six years have patiently waited for this day – not to mention the forbearance of those judges of the High Curt who would be displaced whenever the Court came to Mombasa on circuit. Finally, let me thank all Government agencies, the State Department for Public Works, and the contractors for the parts they have played. Though the wait has been long, they say elsewhere that:
“The waiting is over, let the battle commence”.
It now remains for us, the Judges, advocates, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Attorney General and all other stakeholders to breathe life into this building by diligently playing our respective roles to ensure efficient service delivery.
Pursuant to your Lordship’s blue print ‘Sustaining Judicial Transformation (SJT): A Service Delivery Agenda 2017-2021’, I would like to assure you, Sir and the general public of the commitment of the Court of Appeal to reduce backlog and minimize delays to acceptable international standards; and to be real- time in three years, InshAllah.
It is in the spirit of this renewed focus that I am pleased to announce here that the first order of business for the Court of Appeal in these new premises, will be next month, May, 2019 when the Court is scheduled to hold its De-brief conference to evaluate its performance in resolving elections- related appeals last year. We intend to take advantage of the occasion slated to take place here in Mombasa between 27th and 31st May 2019 to hear appeals and applications on the first two days — on 27th and 28th May, 2019. With four (4) full Benches, we expect to close at least 50 files; heard and concluded — 50 appeals and applications finalized in 2 days!! With a total of 400 appeals and applications (civil and criminal) pending in Mombasa and Malindi we need only to return six times and sit for a full week on those occasions to completely wipe out the backlog. From that point going forward, appeals in this region will be heard on real-time basis. We propose to replicate this model of service weeks in all Court of Appeal stations across the Country, funds and physical facilities permitting. As a matter of fact, we are planning to conduct hearings at Nakuru for two (2) days on 10th and 11th June, 2019 during the Court of Appeal Annual Colloquium. There will be a full week of four (4) benches sitting in Kisumu between 28th July and 1st August, 2019. Next will be Nairobi and then Nyeri before the end of the year, InshAllah. We thank the Chief Registrar Judiciary, the Director, JTI and the Country Director, IDLO for guaranteeing us the funds to commence this programme. My Lord the Hon. The Chief Justice is fully behind this initiative as it resonates with his blue print, Sustaining Judiciary Transformation for Service Delivery (SJT), which focuses on service delivery.
Hopefully before the end of the year the eleven (11) vacant position in the Court will have been filled and the Court will at the beginning of 2020 be ready for optimal performance.
Let me now invite the Vice Chairperson of the Judicial Service Commission, Commissioner Mercy Deche to make her remarks.
JUSTICE WILLIAM OUKO
JUDGE/PRESIDENT, COURT OF APPEAL