1.This appeal arises from a ruling dated November 14, 2016 of learned judge, Linnet Ndolo of the Employment and Labour Relations Court. The learned judge cited the appellant for contempt and consequently ordered him to pay a fine of Kshs 1,000,000/= (Kenya shillings one million) or in default be committed to civil jail for a period of 30 days. The trial court further ordered that the penalty was to take effect immediately.
2.By way of background, the appellant at the material time, was the acting county secretary of Kitui county public service board. The respondent, Dr. Evans Mumo Mwangangi was at the material time, the deputy director county ministry of health and sanitation. On May 26, 2015, the respondent was interdicted and sent on compulsory leave for alleged gross misconduct. Aggrieved by the decision to interdict him, the respondent filed Cause No 18 of 2016, in the Employment and Labour Relations Court at Nairobi. Upon hearing the parties, the learned judge issued orders on May 31, 2016 as follows:
3.On July 22, 2016, the respondent applied to cite the appellant and two others for contempt and for an appropriate sentence to be imposed by the Court. The orders sought were as follows:
4.In support for the application for contempt, the respondent swore an affidavit dated July 22, 2016 stating as follows: that he had not received the letter for reinstatement; that he had not received his outstanding salary and allowances; that he had not been reinstated to the former office of acting chief officer and deputy director; that the appellant had issued him with a letter dated July 20, 2016 instructing him to proceed on a 45 days annual leave without any reasonable grounds; and that being sent on annual leave amounted to forced compulsory leave.
5.In reply to the application for contempt, the appellant swore an affidavit on August 15, 2016 stating as follows: that on July 15, 2016 the respondent was issued with a letter terminating his interdiction and which letter confirmed his reinstatement as an employee of the county; that the respondent reported back to work on July 20, 2016 and was advised that his salary and allowances were being processed for payment.
6.He further deposed, that the respondent had accumulated 45 leave days which he was requested to take; that the respondent was reinstated to his former position of deputy director health services; and therefore there was no violation or disobedience of the court orders as alleged.
7.Upon hearing the parties, the learned judge held as follows:
8.Dissatisfied with ruling and orders of the Employment and Labour Relations Court, the appellant moved this Court on 9 grounds as set out in the memorandum of appeal dated June 16, 2017 and which we take the liberty to summarize and reframe as follows: that the learned judge erred in law by entertaining the letter dated July 20, 2016 as evidence for contempt, yet it was issued by a person who was not party to the proceedings; that the appellant had violated the court order dated May 31, 2016.
9.Further grounds were that the learned judge erred by holding that there was a clear disobedience of the court order; that the act of sending the respondent on annual leave amounted to contempt; that imposing a fine and a sentence in default was unjustified in the circumstances of this case; and ordering purging of the contempt was wrong as the court orders had been complied with.
10.The appellant submits that sending the respondent on leave was not an act of contempt because the order of May 31, 2016 only required the contemnors, the appellant included, to quash the interdiction directive and to reinstate the respondent to his position without any loss of pay or benefits; that furthermore, an employee serving interdiction would not be available to proceed on leave; that the suit as commenced against the office of the county secretary could not be a suit as against the county government of Kitui; that it is doubtful whether an order against an office which is not established in law as corporate entity could be enforced against the office; that the county government of Kitui was not a party to the proceedings in the superior court and hence the appellant should not have been condemned for actions he undertook on behalf of that government; that the county government of Kitui had the discretion to agree with him on how to utilize the 45 leave days and it was not mandatory to consult the respondent.
11.The respondent submits that the compulsory annual leave was calculated to defeat the orders reinstating the respondent to his position and was in express violation of the law; that all the elements were satisfied to warrant a finding by the trial court that the conduct of the appellant was in contempt of its’ orders and that contempt proceedings could not only be instituted against holders of a state office but also against previous state officers who committed contempt while in office; and that failure by the court to allow the appellant to mitigate was not fatal and does not invalidate the finding of contempt.
12.The appellant in the grounds and written submissions prays that this Court sets aside the orders issued on November 14, 2016 as there had been compliance with the court orders that had been issued, and therefore the conviction for the alleged contempt was not justified.
13.This being a first appeal, it is our duty in addition to considering submissions by the appellants and the respondents, to analyze and re-assess the evidence on record and reach our own independent conclusions in the matter. This approach was adopted in Arthi Highway Developers Limited v West End Butchery Limited & 6 others  eKLR where the court cited the case of Selle v Associated Motor Boat Co.  EA 123:
14.Having considered the record of appeal, the written and oral submissions of the learned counsels for the appellant and the respondent, we are of the considered opinion that this appeal will stand or fall on the following issues:
15.Before we answer the above questions, it is important to state that obedience of court orders, is the bedrock of the rule of law. An organized society lives through an organized system of governance and therefore the obedience of court orders by all parties is not an option but a mandatory requirement. Any party who deliberately disobeys a court order, should not cry or scream when being crashed by the jaws of justice.
16.At the heart of the answer, to the grounds that we have identified for analysis is; what orders were made by the ELRC Court; were the orders served; and was there disobedience of those court orders? To answer these questions, it is necessary for us to re-analyze the proceedings leading to the application for contempt and the orders that were made. A summary of the facts is as follows:
17.We note that the trial court was faced with those two conflicting sets of facts. Upon hearing the parties, the court proceeded to cite the applicant for contempt and fined him a sum of Kshs 1,000,000/= (Kenya shillings one million) or civil jail of 30 days and further ordered that the penalty was to take place immediately.
18.A perusal of the proceedings reveals that the learned judge in her ruling admitted, that there was compliance of the orders issued on July 19, 2016. At the risk of repetition, the learned judge held as follows:
19.We also note that, the respondent was issued with a letter of reinstatement dated July 15, 2016 which states as follows:
20.Having been served with a letter of reinstatement, a fact that the learned judge appreciated in her ruling, the allegation that the appellant violated the court order issued on May 31, 2016 is left hanging in the air and has no factual or legal basis. In view of the foregoing, the allegation that the appellant violated the court order collapses in view of these clear and uncontroverted facts.
21.We note that what weighed heavily in the mind of the trial court, was the sending of the respondent on annual leave. We also note that in the ruling the learned judge states as follows:The Judge proceeded to hold as follows:
23.As already stated, disobedience of a court order is a serious transgression that attracts punitive measures. However, before a person can be condemned for being in violation of a court order, there must be evidence to show deliberate disobedience of the code by that person and, being quasi-criminal, the standard of proof in contempt of court matters is higher than proof on a balance of probabilities, though not as high as proof beyond reasonable doubt. (See Mutitika v Baharini Farm (1985) eKLR.
24.In the case at hand, a reading of the orders issued on May 31, 2016 never dealt with the issue of annual leave. Once the respondent was reinstated, he was governed by all the human resource manuals and policies that governed all the other employees. The respondent was not elevated to any special status but was bound by the regulations and policies that governed all the employees. The respondent could not, and had no right to use the court order issued on May 31, 2016 as a license for intimidation or as a license for self-entitlement.
25.It is our holding that, the act of sending the respondent on annual leave could not lay a foundation for an application for contempt of court, given the terms of the order of 13th may 2016 and the finding of the trail court that the respondent had been reinstated. If the respondent considered being sent on leave as a violation of his rights, that should have been a matter for a different claim. We have said enough on these issues and it is now obvious, that the cornerstone of the application for contempt has collapsed.
26.Having held that there was no breach of the court order dated May 31, 2016, it is not necessary to interrogate the other grounds raised by the appellant as the backbone for the application for contempt has collapsed.
28.In this appeal, we note that the appellant was convicted and fined without being given a chance to mitigate. The learned judge ought to have given the appellant a chance to mitigate before conviction and sentence. Courts must deal firmly with disobedience of court orders. Conversely, it is important to respect the rights of the parties before imposing a custodial sentence or fine by giving such a party a chance to mitigate.
29.We should also add that it was remiss for the trial court to keep referring to the appellant as “contemnor”, even before it had found him guilty contempt of court. Before finding the appellant guilty of contempt, he was merely an “alleged contemner”. This sad choice of nomenclature gave an unfortunate impression that from the beginning, the trial court had formed the view that the appellant was indeed guilty of contempt of court.
30.In conclusion, we find that this appeal has merit and it succeeds. Therefore, we order and direct that:i.The appellant’s appeal be and is hereby allowed;ii.The ruling and the order of the Employment and Labour Relations Court at Nairobi (Linnet Ndolo, J.) and November 14, 2016 be and is hereby set aside and;iii.If the appellant had already paid the fine, the money should be refunded.(iv)The costs of this appeal and in the trial Court be borne by the respondent.
DATED AND DELIVERED AT NAIROBI THIS 3RD DAY OF FEBRUARY, 2023.K. M’INOTI...........................................JUDGE OF APPEALDR. K. I. LAIBUTA...........................................JUDGE OF APPEALM. GACHOKA, CIArb, FCIArb...........................................JUDGE OF APPEALI certify that this is a true copy of the originalSignedDEPUTY REGISTRAR