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Journalists may be kicked out when prominent families fight in court over property

You will soon not be reading about succession cases involving prominent Kenyan families if members of Parliament (MPs) pass a bill to guide media coverage on such cases.

The amendment to The Law of Succession Act contained in the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill, 2018, seeks to bar journalists from reporting on any case filed in court touching on succession.

The amendment was introduced just weeks after the new Attorney-General Paul Kariuki was sworn in.

Mr Kariuki was a member of trustees in the Trust appointed by the late tycoon James Njenga Karume to manage his property.

KARUME ESTATE

Mr Kariuki quit the Trust soon after it was setup.

The media has already been gagged in covering a case in which Karume’s family seeks to have the trustees stopped from running his vast estate.

This was shortly after the Sunday Nation published a story on the status of the case in January.

Immediately, lawyers for the trustees sought to have the media barred from covering the suit.

If the bill is passed in its current form, judges or magistrates presiding over succession disputes will have the discretion to eject people who are not connected to the case from court.

PUBLICATION

The proposed clause states: “In any proceedings for an application or dispute relating to the administration of a deceased person’s estate, the court hearing the application or dispute may, on its own motion, or upon an application by any of the parties, direct that any persons, not being members of the court or parties to the case or their advocates, be excluded from the court.”

Journalists would therefore be barred from reporting on such cases as another new clause states:

“The court may prohibit the publication of the proceedings on the matter in respect of which a direction is given.”

This provision would give parties involved in succession disputes power to decide whether or not their court cases should be documented, dealing a blow to the freedom of the press.

LOOTERS

Other prominent cases that are ongoing, and the public may not get to know their fate, include that of the late spy chief James Kanyotu and former MP Mark Too.

Constitutional lawyer Lempaa Soyinka reads mischief in the bill.

“The idea behind that amendment seems to me like an attempt to protect the ruling elite and stealing politicians who die leaving a trail of disputes within their families and do not want such stories to be known.

“It is only after a politician dies that the country gets to know how much such a politician owned,” he said.

However, he noted that families can invoke Article 31 on the right to privacy, which can be used by the court to bar journalists.

Justice and Legal Affairs Committee chairperson William Cheptumo said his committee will look at the provision keenly and make the right recommendations.

“I am yet to see the bill, it has just been referred to my committee,” he said.