OPINION: Youth demand inclusion in selection of CJ and Supreme Court Judge
By Raphael Obonyo
Meaningful public participation in the recruitment of Chief Justice (CJ), Judges and Judicial reforms is critically important.
Drafters of the constitution had in mind an approach where people would provide input in decisions affecting their lives. It was conceived this would also provide them with checks and oversight on what both governments were doing.
It was specifically embedded in public decision making to prevent government officials from thinking for people, where they have scored poorly.
Public participation has several benefits including the improvement of decision-making and service delivery as the needs and interests of all stakeholders are considered.
It can promote inclusion and equity in public resource allocation and service delivery; and mitigates against misunderstandings and social conflicts.
The Judicial Service Commission must put in place an elaborate framework for engagement with the public including youth.
Noteworthy, Kenya is a youthful country. Kenyans aged between 15 and 34 years form about 36 per cent of the total population.
Those below age 34 constitute about 80 percent of the population. It is worrying that 75 per cent of prisoners are aged between 18 and 35 years with majority of them being poor and petty offenders.
This is a pointer to a bigger problem that Kenya needs to deal with by continuously engaging the youth.
Exclusion of youth from governance is not only bad for the youth, it is tragic for a country like Kenya. There is need to tap youth creativity, fresh ideas and energies to make progress.
If youth are included in critical processes and be made to believe that they can dictate their destiny, the country could embark on a trajectory towards good governance.
On this note, the Youth Congress is urging the Judicial Service Commission to put in place a clear public participation framework especially with the youth, to enhance areas of collaboration between the youth and the judiciary, which has been lacking.
We propose a caucus between the judiciary and the youth to accelerate judicial reforms. In particular, to introduce the role of Kenya youth in judicial reforms and administration of justice.
The Chief Justice Caucus with the Youth should be part of the dialogue initiative and ongoing efforts to improve judicial capability and to strengthen links between the judiciary and the citizens.
There is no doubt that meaningful public participation in the judicial reforms is absolutely necessary to achieve an improved and effective judicial system.
In this context, the Judiciary needs to constantly engage with the public particularly on ways of making the judiciary more accessible, efficient and effective.
Noteworthy, the 2010 constitution provides an opportunity for the Judiciary to work with all the stakeholders including the youth to ensure effective access to justice by all.
The Chief Justice Caucus with the youth is not a totally new concept for the Kenyan Judiciary.
When Dr Willy Mutunga served as the Chief Justice of the Republic of Kenya, he chose as his first public assignment to visit Korogocho: one of the largest informal settlements in Kenya where he was hosted by the Youth Congress of Kenya.
The concept of judiciary-public engagement is founded on the premise that the judiciary cannot single handedly administer justice without effective engagement of key stakeholders.
Indeed, judicial and legal reforms cannot be successful without the full support and involvement of the public. Citizens particularly the youth must also play their part in the transformation of the judiciary.
When the citizens, including the youth, go beyond being spectators in judicial reform process, then the reforms become more sustainable.
The country’s youth population continues to grow implying that today’s plans should critically consider issues concerning youths.
Engaging young people in judicial activities is therefore an imperative with a current and future objective as it on one hand will work with today’s young to ensure that judicial systems are sensitive to their issues, but will also provide institutions that can deal with the more youthful population of the future.
Effective judicial system is important in addressing some of the socio-economic and political problems facing young people in Kenya. Also, a functioning judiciary is essential for development and nurturing of Kenya’s nascent democracy.
In is becoming increasingly clear that public engagement in institutional reforms is the only way to ensure sustainable reforms.
Public confidence is essential to enhance effective operations of the judiciary. Similarly public trust is necessary to administer justice and enforce judgments.
Despite the ongoing judicial reforms, many youth in Kenya have reportedly raised concerns on some of the technical, economic, legal and bureaucratic challenges they face when seeking justice from the courts.
It is vital for the Judiciary to engage with the youth, listen to their concerns, and seek their perspectives and views on ways for accelerating judicial reforms and making the judiciary more accessible to the youth.
Indeed, the youth seek a judicial system that promotes the rule of law and protects young people’s civil, political, social and economic rights.
In varying degree, young people approve of the ongoing judicial reforms. Young people, however, feel that the process is not moving as fast as they had anticipated.
To enhance young people’s trust in the judiciary and the ongoing judicial process, it is important to ensure their effective engagement. The Judiciary needs to give greater emphasis to the role of youth in its endeavors for judicial reforms.
The aim of the Chief Justice’s Caucus with the Youth is to build a common understanding and exchange of views and ideas about judicial reforms with emphasis on the role of youth.
In order to accelerate and ensure broader ownership of judicial reforms, the judiciary needs to constantly engage with the public. The caucus shall discuss strategies for ensuring greater and effective youth engagement in judicial transformation.
Raphael Obonyo is a public policy analyst. He has served as a consultant with the United Nations and the World Bank and is also a writer. An alumnus of Duke University, he has authored and coauthored numerous books, including ‘Conversations about the Youth in Kenya’