Kenya: Fired Supreme Court Official Lucy Njora Gets Job Back

The Employment and Labour Relations Court has reinstated a deputy registrar who was sacked amid vicious turf wars at the Supreme Court five years ago.

While upholding a decision to reinstate Ms Lucy Njora, the three-judge bench criticised the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) over the manner in which the court official was treated, saying, her dismissal was unreasonable and unjustified.

Ms Njora was sacked shortly before former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga went on terminal leave.

"(JSC) actions smacked of victimisation and an attempt to make someone pay for the embarrassing events that surrounded the two applications before the Supreme Court," said Justices Patrick Kiage, Justices Gatembu Kairu and Fatuma Sichale.

Ms Njora was entangled in a row between Dr Mutunga and Justice Njoki Ndung'u, with the latter complaining that the CJ was interfering with the independence of judges.

Two of their colleagues, retired Deputy Chief Justice Kalpana Rawal and Justice Philip Tunoi, were making last-ditch efforts to remain in office up to the age of 74 years after the court had set the retirement ceiling at 70 years.

Interdiction

The judges said Ms Njora, dismissed in 2016, was made to carry that burden of embarrassment and awkwardness as some kind of scapegoat.

She was accused of insubordination and given an interdiction letter by Dr Mutunga only for other judges to reinstate her on June 17, 2016. However, she was subjected to disciplinary action a few months later.

In a ruling that could have far-reaching consequences for labour relations, the judges said employers must understand that before taking drastic actions that cut short the careers and livelihoods of their workers, they should ensure that the process is conducted reasonably and fairly.

"Given the predilection exhibited by JSC in its entire attitude towards Ms Njora, some of it in full display in the manner she was questioned by the relevant committee, I think that an appeal to the same commission would have served no purpose, given that the decision-maker had already made up its mind," said the judges.

Justice Nelson Abuodha of the Employment and Labour Relations Court had ruled that the disciplinary proceedings against Ms Njora and her eventual sacking in 2016 were null and void.

Adequate compensation

The judges said Ms Njora executed her job as required by Supreme Court rules and there were no valid reasons for sacking her. Ms Njora had urged the court to order the JSC to pay her a compensation Sh70 million for dismissing her illegally.

The judges declined to grant the claim but ordered that she be fully compensated for the period she was out on interdiction until the date of her reinstatement: "Although she was not working, we think, with due respect, that would provide adequate compensation."

The thrust of her complaint was that her right to administrative action that is expeditious, efficient, reasonable and procedurally fair was violated, as was her right to dignity.

She argued that she was subjected to discrimination, harassment and removal from office without due process.

Her case has been pending before the JSC since 2016, and it was not until 2018 when she was asked to appear before the commission. Seven months later, she was served with a dismissal letter without being furnished with detailed reasons.

She wondered why Dr Mutunga was not called as a witness, being the complainant, or make any presentation over the alleged insubordination.

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