Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta has reversed his earlier position and suspended Supreme Court judge Philip Tunoi and appointed a tribunal to investigate claims he took $2 million bribe to sway an election petition in 2014.
President Kenyatta, while appointing the seven-bench tribunal, explained that he had taken the decision after further consultations and taking into account the 14-day constitutional timeline for setting up the tribunal.
The president had till Tuesday February 23 to appoint the tribunal to investigate Justice Tunoi's conduct but he had earlier declined saying that it would occasion a constitutional crisis. He had advised that he would await the outcome of a case in the Court of Appeal, where Justice Tunoi is challenging a circular to retire at 70 instead of 74.
"I have made this decision, despite my concerns regarding the pending matters before the Court of Appeal, as to the correct age of retirement for judges who served under the previous constitutional dispensation. I believe that my concerns may now be addressed by the tribunal itself, which may independently consider the merit, if any, of such concerns, should it be raised before it," said President Kenyatta in a statement released by State House spokesperson, Manoah Esipisu.
After lawyers, including the chairman of the Law Society of Kenya, Eric Mutua, warned that the president risked impeachment proceedings for breach of the Constitution if he failed to appoint the tribunal within 14 days, the president maintained that he is faithful to the supreme law.
"I reiterate my commitment and fidelity to the Constitution of Kenya, and confirm that I will continue to uphold and defend it, as I have from the first day I took oath of office as President. Nothing less should ever be expected from me and the office I hold in trust of Kenyans," he said.
The tribunal will be chaired by the Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board chairman Sharad Rao. Other members include Judge Roselyn Korir, retired judge Jonathan Havelock, Ms Judith Guserwa, Mr James Kaberere Gachoka, Mr Abdirashid Abdullahi Hussein and Mr George Munji Wakukha.
Justice Tunoi is the second member of the Supreme Court to face a tribunal since it came into effect under the 2010 Constitution.
The first was former deputy chief justice Nancy Baraza. She resigned in October 2012, nine months after she was accused of threatening a security guard with a gun.
She chose to resign and drop the appeal she had lodged with the Supreme Court after the tribunal led by Tanzania's former chief justice Augustino Ramadhani recommended that she be sacked.