Exit Mutunga, enter the wig and the robe in conservative court

Besides the urgent matter of adjudicating the high-octane presidential petition, one of the more noticeable features of the courts under Chief Justice David Maraga is the return of the robes and wigs once yanked out of the Judiciary by his predecessor, Dr Willy Mutunga.

When the court convened to formally begin hearing submissions in the petition filed by Nasa leader Raila Odinga to challenge President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election late Saturday, members of the Bar and the Bench showed up in their ceremonial garb—which must have made Dr Mutunga cringe wherever he was following the proceedings from.

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While lawyers for the parties in the petition showed up in court dressed in all-black barrister gowns with the Attorney-General Githu Muigai adding a dash of the famous wig, the judges donned black robes with a red outer lining.

Since his appointment in September last year, Justice Maraga, a self-proclaimed conservative, has been chipping away at some of his predecessor’s changes in the Judiciary.

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When he was appointed the Chief Justice in 2011, one of Dr Mutunga’s first initiatives was to do away with the long-established tradition where judges and lawyers donned robes and wigs in court.

This, he argued, was a way of decolonising the Judiciary because maintaining a tradition that has little to do with contemporary Kenyan society was antiquated and ridiculous.

“I thought I was going to insult President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who fought so hard to get the Constitution, if I showed up for the swearing-in wearing colonial wigs and dresses,” Dr Mutunga told NTV at the time.

He added: “I would be perfectly happy to wear a robe that is Kenyan. My thinking is that we (members of the Supreme Court) wear suits and then design a robe that’s very Kenyan.”

He would then instigate the process that would lead to the publication of circular No. CJ90 of 2011 to members of the Bar and the Bench.

The wigs were then discarded with immediate effect.

Those who had them were told to either keep them as souvenirs or hand them to the Chief Registrar.

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