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THROUGH THE EYES OF A WITNESS (By Stella Mutuku) I have had several encounters with the law because

of my not so elegant signature. The year is 1989 when I had enthusiastically taken up my duties as a newly recruited District Magistrate (professional) and posted to Nakuru Law Courts to man the then small District Magistrates Court handling small claims and Traffic matters. I got down to serious business of adjudicating and as most of us know, when you are newly recruited, and although you begin by sitting with one senior magistrate to acquaint yourself with the procedures of the court, you are never sure of whether what you are doing is according to procedure. You would be lucky to have a sympathetic Resident Judge, like in my case, who would correct your mistakes in a fatherly manner and guide you accordingly. I had a crafty court clerk who unknown to me had been studying my signature keenly and had learned how to imitate it to perfection. To my utter shock police officers from the CID visited me to take a statement as to the unexplained circumstances leading to the release from jail, before completion of sentence, of some offenders I had earlier on incarcerated. I obviously denied knowledge as to how the two could have been released by me. As evidence that the unlawful release was actually legal, the officers showed me a release order with my beautiful signature appended to it! The Resident Judge was later to counsel me, please try to make your signature a bit complex. As it is now, it is just a simple scrawl resembling letter h. Many years later while working at the Family Division of the High Court of Kenya, the ghosts of my Nakuru experience came back to haunt me. Some cleaner at the High Court had forged my signature in a letter requiring a District Commissioner, Thika, to release some money held by his office to one of the parties in a succession cause. I was booked as a witness in a Thika Court. I wish I had listened to the wise counsel of the Judge. I decided to travel to Thika Court to give evidence incognito in that I did not want the police officer investigating the case and the prosecutor to know I was a judicial officer. I reported my presence at the prosecution office and was told to wait outside Court No. 2, 1

my former court when I served at Thika! I mingled with wananchi outside the crowded courtroom and waited to be summoned to the witness box. I took time to observe my surroundings, and boy, what a shock! The memories of my days at the station were quite vivid and I remembered better-kept grounds, properly maintained pavements, buildings and at least some grass and flowers outside. What I was witnessing was ruins, broken pavement, dirty compound, broken windowpanes and the stenchthe stench of stale urine and faeces from the holding cell next to Court No. 2 was so overpowering that I could not help wondering how his Honour was managing in court. My commiseration over the situation was interrupted by a burly police officer who, unhappy with two women who had been talking, approached them and bellowed, Do you know where you are? Keep quiet this instant or I put you in jail. Of course this yielded instant results. I guess the size of the officer and the ignorance by the victims to the fact that the officer was just throwing his weight around were too much for the two women who by all means were talking softly and posed no disturbance to anyone. My name was called from the courtroom doorway and I quickly went in. I pushed my way to the witness stand and was sworn in. I looked at his Honour, my colleague. He looked so impersonal and disinterested in what he was doing. I looked at the high back chair he was sitting on, it was meant for the office and not courtroom! I wondered what had happened to the chair I used to sit on. It had authority! I observed the courtroom and the crowded benches. During my time, the courtroom looked bigger and seemed to ooze some authority. Now it was so crowded and there was no air circulation. The doorway was of course blocked due to the many people gathered there. I could not help remembering how I used to order it cleared and those who had nowhere to sit to stand clear of the doorway. Times had changed; courts were now overwhelmed due to choking back log and lack of personnel. Reason? This was the time after the so-called purge in the Judiciary in Kenya. I could understand what his Honour, like the rest of us then, was going through, the hopelessness and helplessness, the uncertain future, the disturbing feeling of not knowing whether tomorrow he would be on that chair.

As I traveled back to Nairobi after accomplishing my mission in Thika, I could not help thinking, who shall come to the rescue of the Kenyan Judiciary? Who shall give us our pride back? Who shall restore our dignity? Who shall rebuild and/or renovate our courtrooms, equip them and deploy adequate and well-remunerated personnel to man them?