Top Stories / National
Monday, 13 Feb 2017 19:38 EAT
The High Court ruling effecting a month-long jail sentence for doctors union officials after their refusal to call of their strike, has come as a surprise and is notable for its selective application. The jailing of the unionists by Justice Hellen Wasilwa is controversial because many government officials, opposition leaders as well as other trade unionists have faced similar charges in the past, only to be released after paying fine or having the contempt ruling dismissed.
Five principal secretaries were in January last year sentenced to serve six months in civil jail for disobeying court orders, but never went to jail. Justice John Mativo of the Nyeri High Court found the principal secretaries of the ministry of Transport and the ministry of Land guilty of contempt of court charges filed against them for disobeying orders issued on June 3, 2013.
The High Court on June 3, 2013 had ordered them to pay Mr Wilson Kamau Maina Sh349,957 in compensation for injuries to his mother, Ms Bilhar Wangui Maina. The orders resulted from a civil case in a magistrate’s court that Ms Maina had filed seeking compensation after she was injured in an accident that involved a government vehicle in 1992. Ms Maina had sued the then ministry of Public Works and Housing as the owner of the vehicle and was found liable.
Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho has repeatedly been in news for defying court orders in relation to compensating a torture victim and the matter has never been determined. Dr Kibicho failed to honour a High Court ruling of October 4, 2016, compelling him to pay Dominic Munguti Kitika within 21 days. The order was the second one after the PS had failed to comply with an earlier order of May 27, 2016. In December 2016, Mr Kitika asked the court to summon the PS to explain why he had not complied.
In another contempt of court case, the PS had been summoned to appear in court in a case where Michael Mahugu sought compensation from the State in 2003. He claimed he was tortured by Special Branch officers in then President Daniel Moi's regime and was awarded Sh2.6 million on February 2014.
By July 22, 2013, the Industrial Court fined the Kenya National Union of Teachers and two of its top officials Sh6 million for contempt. Justice Linnet Ndolo fined Knut Sh5 million, its chairman Wilson Sossion and acting secretary-general Mudzo Nzili Sh500,000 each for not calling off the teachers strike as per her orders three years ago.
“It (contempt fine) has nothing to do with the ego of the judge or the Judiciary; it’s about the safeguarding the rule of the law. A court order is not a mere opinion,” said Justice Ndolo in her ruling. The two officials faced 30 days in jail in lieu of the fine which they paid Monday evening. The officials had last week argued that the court order declaring the strike illegal was directed at teachers and not them.
Talk show host Jeff Koinange appeared before a Nairobi court facing contempt-of-court charges and the case died a natural death.
Given the foregoing, the jailing of the unionists today was much less an act of fidelity to the law as of judicial subservience.