A panel to clean up the Kenyan judiciary ruled on Wednesday that four senior judges let corruption and inefficiency foster deadly post-election violence by those who lost trust in the legal system.
The Court of Appeal judges, including its most senior member, have a week to appeal the ruling after which they are likely to be fired, in a major overhaul of the east African country's tarnished courts. Five other judges were cleared.
Sharad Rao, the chairman of the Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board, said the ethnic violence that followed disputed elections in 2007 might have been avoided if Kenya had had a credible legal mechanism for settling disputes.
"More than a thousand people [were] killed and hundreds of thousands displaced when the controversial outcome of the presidential elections in 2007 [was] not ... contested in court, but instead ... followed by war in the streets," Rao told a conference, broadcast live on television, where the board's findings were disclosed.
Bias and "gifts"
The top Court of Appeal judge, Riaga Omolo, was found not to have been impartial and was inconsistent in political cases. The three other judges were accused of accepting "gifts" and issued rulings that blocked the fight against corruption, the panel said.
The election unrest damaged Kenya's reputation as a beacon of peace and stability in the region and the International Criminal Court has accused four prominent Kenyans, including former Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, of masterminding the violence that killed more than 1,200 people. All have said they are innocent.
Past opinion polls have shown strong public support for the ICC cases and many Kenyans feel their own judicial system lacks the will to tackle a culture of impunity, where the powerful are often seen as above the law.
Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, a former law school lecturer with a track record of pushing for legal reform and has never served as a judge, is behind the process of vetting judges and magistrates to weed out the corrupt and inefficient.
In January, Mutunga, who has won plaudits for his efforts to clean up the judiciary, called for his own deputy to be suspended and investigated for threatening a shopping mall security guard with a pistol.
Mutunga and his deputy, Nancy Baraza, also a lawyer with no previous background in the courts, were appointed after rigorous interviews broadcast live on television – a first for Kenya and part of its drive for transparency.
Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Eugene Wamalwa said sacking the judges would help restore public confidence in the courts, a task he said was an imperative part of reforms under a new constitution passed in August 2010.
"We will be moving ahead to ensure that critical reforms are carried out in all sectors of our society apart from our judiciary and of course as we go along there will be collateral damage," Wamalwa told reporters.