A three-judge bench sitting in Narok has adjourned the hearing of a case involving Mau forest evictees to April 12-16th 2021.
The adjournment by the three-judge bench comprising of Mohammed Kullow (in charge of Land and Environment Court- ELC in Narok), John Mutungi (in charge of ELC in Nakuru and presiding judge) and Justice George Ong’ondo was made after a successful application by the plaintiffs’ counsel.
The court had set a five-day hearing schedule beginning Monday, November 30 to Friday, December 4, 2020, to hear the respondents who are government ministries and departments sued in the case, but this was not to be.
The lead counsel for the evictees Kimutai Bosek through lawyer Grace Wambura applied for the adjournment of the proceedings citing the Covid-19 pandemic situation in the country, saying it was not tenable to sit in the court and proceed with the case.
While issuing the direction, the judges acknowledged that the continued spike of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country was a threat and gave new dates for the case.
Lawyer Hassan Kamwaro who is representing the Friends of Mau, an interested party in the case, had opposed the adjournment saying Covid-19 was being used by the petitioners as an excuse to derail the case.
Mary Muigai representing the state also raised concern over the decision by the bench to set aside the hearing for November 30 to December 4, 2020, saying that there was no urgency.
Chief Justice David Maraga had appointed the three-judge bench after more than 40,000 evictees moved to court to sue the state over what they termed as illegal and forceful eviction from their farms in the Mau forest in September last year.
While issuing the ruling on behalf of the bench, Justice Kulow said the bench agreed to postpone it as far as possible so as to ensure that the petitioners’ advocates get time to attend the crucial hearing.
He also reiterated that the bench could not force the petitioners to participate in the hearing when they feel their lives are at risk of the pandemic.
The adjournment came shortly after Kericho Governor Paul Chepkwony and a section of the Mau evictees led by Joseph Kimeto Ole Mapelu and 12 others separately filed a petition at the Narok High Court while another faction of the evictees led by the Deputy Speaker of Nakuru County Assembly Samuel Tonui had filed another case at a Nakuru court.
The two groups wanted the court to issue a permanent injunction restraining further evictions claiming that private landowners were being evicted from their land despite having lawful title deeds.
In mid this year, Justice John Mutungi of the Environment and Lands Court (ELC) in Nakuru issued a temporary order suspending an ongoing eviction of dwellers in the Eastern Mau Complex.
Justice Mutungi issued the order stopping the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Water and Natural Resources; the Attorney General; Kenya Forests Service and the Nakuru Regional Commissioner from going on with evictions in Eastern Mau Complex evictions.