The corruption trial of Kenya’s deputy chief justice, the country’s second-highest judge, was suspended Wednesday amid a barrage of legal petitions at various courts.
Philomena Mwilu, one of seven members of the Supreme Court, was arrested Tuesday after Kenya’s director of public prosecutions, Noordin Haji, accused her of abusing her office for personal gain.
Mwilu was among the judges who annulled President Uhuru Kenyatta’s initial election win in August 2017, leading to the controversial holding of a fresh vote.
She was due to be formally charged at a Nairobi magistrates’ court on Wednesday but High Court judge Chacha Mwita suspended the criminal case until October 9 to hear a constitutional challenge brought by her lawyers.
Mwilu’s lead lawyer James Orengo, a prominent opposition figure and elected senator who played a key role in overturning last year’s election outcome, said the move against the judge was “an attack on the judiciary”.
“These charges have been brought not to secure justice but to secure the removal of the deputy chief justice from office,” he said before launching his legal challenge to the case.
He insisted on her innocence, saying: “There is no factual foundation for instituting these proceedings.”
After his initial election was annulled Kenyatta publicly warned that he would “fix the judiciary” and some judges subsequently faced threats and intimidation.
In October 2017, Mwilu’s bodyguard was shot dead the day before the Supreme Court was to hear a petition to postpone the re-run.
As a result, Mwilu did not attend the hearing and the lack of a quorum meant the election went ahead unchallenged.
“This is an intensified war on the Supreme Court,” Orengo said Wednesday.
Mwilu was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2016, and shot into the limelight for her role in annulling Kenyatta’s first poll win.
Haji said her arrest was part of an ongoing crackdown against corruption, which has seen several high-ranking officials hauled into court, a rarity in graft-wracked Kenya whose citizens rarely see justice done.
“We are an independent institution and we are not being directed by anyone,” he said.