Kenya President William Ruto president is coming under criticism from judges, lawyers, legal experts and opposition groups after saying he won’t respect court orders that he perceives as an effort to undermine key policies of his administration.
Critics are calling for nationwide protests to protect the judiciary’s independence and respect for the rule of law. Kenyan lawyers have called for a demonstration following Tuesday’s comments from President Ruto. The head of the Law Society of Kenya, Eric Theuri, said they will be marching in support of Kenya’s judges.
“The Law Society will be organizing a countrywide peaceful demonstration where we will read and affirm the oath that each and every one of the advocates of the high court took to protect the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and the constitution we have.”
The lawyers’ association has called on each of its members to wear a purple ribbon next week to show their displeasure with the attack on the country’s judicial system. On Tuesday, President Ruto said he will ignore some court orders that he sees as aimed at stalling government development programs.
He accused some judges of corruption and working with those filing cases against his government’s economic plans.
“We will protect the independence of the judiciary. What we will not allow is judicial tyranny and judicial impunity,” Ruto said.
The government led by Ruto has made the construction of affordable houses and provision of universal healthcare two of his top priorities. But critics say in implementing the plans, the government is trampling over the legal process. A Kenyan court stopped the government’s plan to raise taxes to construct the houses, saying it was unconstitutional and discriminatory, a decision that has angered the executive.
In a statement, Kenyan Chief Justice Martha Koome condemned the president’s remarks on matters that are still before the court. Koome called on judges to fulfill their duties in accordance with the law and the constitution. She said the Judicial Service Commission will protect the targeted judges.
Theuri said Ruto must use judicial means to challenge the court rulings and judicial officers he thinks are corrupt.
“The president, therefore, as the foremost custodian of the rule of law, should refrain from undermining the judiciary and instead utilize legal avenues at his disposal to challenge decisions,” Theuri said.
Kenya has a history of political violence and ethnic conflict, especially during election campaigns. The constitution passed in 2010 gave the judiciary independence to do its work without the interference of the government, a freedom which has given Kenyans increased confidence in the judiciary.
Donald Rabala is an advocate at the High Court of Kenya. He told VOA that when the citizens are aggrieved and laws are broken, their hopes lie in courts, and it’s good for the nation’s stability.
“It’s important for the common people for those who are governed. A constitution is basically a social contract between the governed and the governance,” Rabala said. “So what we are saying is that that’s the only way the common man can be able to challenge any decision by the executive. They cannot change it through a compromised parliament.
They cannot challenge it through the executive itself but through the judiciary they can question any decision made by the executive. With that, then you have peace, then you have prosperity in place.”
Despite the criticism, the government has vowed to crack down on allegedly corrupt judges and judicial officers. Many Kenyans hope any future action does not affect people’s confidence in the country’s judicial system, which has taken decades to build.