Justice through an independent Judiciary remains the foundation upon which democracy, rule of law and socio-economic development depend in our increasingly diverse society. And as we focus on the issue of an independent and well-funded Judiciary, the conversation on our accountability is equally important.
The preparation of the Judiciary budget proposals for the 2021/22 Financial Year and the 2021/2022 – 2023/2024 Medium-Term Expenditure Framework/MTEF) is under way.
The budget proposal is to be submitted to the National Assembly by April 30, 2021. The proposal is prepared against the backdrop of Article 201 of the Constitution and the Public Finance Management Act, which demands public participation as an avenue to achieving transparency and accountability in the management of public finances.
In the past, the judiciary budget proposal has been submitted as part of the Governance, Justice, Law and Order Sector (GJLOS), one of the 10 MTEF budget sectors created by the government for efficiency in planning. Through the years the Judiciary as an arm of government has had to compete for funds with all these agencies from one basket, a hugely disadvantageous process.
In the 2019/2020 financial year, the judiciary transitioned to a budgeting process that is detached from the GJLOS, in conformity with the dictates of the Constitution and the Judiciary Fund Act. Last year, for the first time, the judiciary prepared its budget proposal separately.
The budgeting process this year differs from the past in a significant way. The Judiciary has devolved the public hearings on its budget proposals, recognising that people in different parts of the country experience justice differently.
This is also in conformity with the national values and principles of governance as espoused by the Constitution, particularly the requirement for participation of the public in implementing decisions. It is further informed by the need to infuse responsiveness into the Judiciary budget, taking into account the unique needs of justice seekers.
The Judiciary has held budget hearings in major towns. We have received perspectives from stakeholders, including women, young people, lawyers, civil society, business communities, all of which will be incorporated into our budget proposal. The public hearings are in line with our quest for an open and accountable institution. The proposed budget will be implemented within the new reality brought by the Covid-19 pandemic to the justice sector.
The downscaling of court operations with the effectual introduction of digital solutions has pushed the bulk of court sessions to virtual platforms. While we have achieved some commendable results with various digital solutions, numerous challenges remain, partly attributable to underfunding.
The need for significant investment in technology cannot be overstated. With the impending retirement of Chief Justice David Maraga in January 2021 and the earlier retirement of a Judge of the Supreme Court, the transition process has attendant cost implications.
The Judiciary anticipates the swearing in of 40 judges recommended for appointment. Furthermore, preparatory processes for electoral dispute resolution expected to peak in 2022/2023 must begin in the next financial year, both at the level of the Political Parties Disputes Tribunal and at all levels of the courts. From past experience, adequate investment in capacity building and infrastructural adjustment must be made.
The Building Bridges Initiative proposes changes that, if adopted could put pressure on Judiciary resources, for instance, the proposal to remove all the preliminary dispute resolution mechanisms from the Independent electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) would mean that hundreds, perhaps thousands of party nomination disputes previously handled by the IEBC would end up in the court with, with a huge demand for resources.
Even as we budget within the current legal framework, the Judiciary reiterates its calls for reforms that would guarantee the institution a minimum of 2.5 per cent of the national budget in accordance with internationally accepted standard.