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NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya has appointed a team of eight judges to help the courts prepare to handle election disputes and try to improve the credibility of the legal system before next year's presidential election.
Chief Justice Willy Mutunga said on Thursday the deadly ethnic violence that followed a 2007 election might have been avoided if Kenya had better legal system for settling disputes.
Mutunga said the Supreme Court, created by a new constitution adopted in August 2010, will handle any petition arising out of the presidential election within 14 days, while the High Court will deal with all other election petitions.
"The electoral crisis of 2007 and its aftermath was caused by numerous malpractices and outright criminal activity, but exacerbated in large part by a refusal to take disputes to the courts," he told reporters.
"We in the judiciary intend to earn the public confidence that was so dented at the last election as to discourage parties from taking disputes to court," said Mutunga, a former law school lecturer with a track record of pushing for legal reform.
The International Criminal Court has accused four prominent Kenyans, including former Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, of masterminding the violence that killed more than 1,200 people. All have said they are innocent.
Mutunga said the newly appointed judges would lay out plans for an intensive and specific training programme for judges expected to handle election offences and disputes.
Politics in east Africa's biggest economy are largely driven by tribal alliances rather than ideology, or even a government's record of rule, and there are signs that rising ethnic tensions could lead to fresh violence in the March 2013 election.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga told parliament on Wednesday that the National Security and Intelligence Service has informed the government of a likelihood of poll violence next year.
Nearly 30 people were killed in the worst single attack of Kenya's post-election violence when a mob from one tribe set fire to a church in Eldoret, the epicentre of the 2007 violence, killing members of a different tribe.