Kenya late Tuesday said it had formally asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to delay the hearing of the Somalia maritime dispute, to allow for recruitment of a new defence team.
“Due to exceptional circumstances, occasioned by the need to recruit a new defence team, Kenya has sought to have the matter postponed,” Attorney General Kihara Kariuki said in a statement.
He, however, declined to say the status of the initial legal team.
The case has been scheduled for hearing next week after which the 15-bench Court whose President is Somali Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf will deliver a verdict by September 19.
If Kenya’s request is granted, the Hague-based court may reschedule the public hearing on new dates.
Under Article 54 of the Rules of the Court, parties to a case may request the bench to alter the date fixed by the Court, “should occasion arise” to either delay the public oral sessions or stop those already going on until a later date.
Ordinarily, such a request will also require the say of the other party—in this case Somalia.
Somalia sued Kenya at the ICJ, the UN’s principle Court, seeking to change the flow of the maritime boundary from the current eastwards direction from the land border at Kiunga, to a diagonal flow, threating Kenya’s sea stake.
In the preliminary round in which Kenya lost its objection to the Court’s jurisdiction, Nairobi was represented by a team of foreign lawyers hired by then Attorney General Githu Muigai.
They included Prof Payam Akhavan from the US, Prof Vaughan Lowe QC from the UK, Prof Alan Boyle (British), Prof Mathias Forteau (French), Mr Karim Khan (British) and Ms Amy Sanders (British).
The case, whose verdict is binding to both Kenya and Somalia, was approaching amid rising tensions between Mogadishu and Kenya.
Recently, Somalia rejected Nairobi’s latest attempt to have the case solved out of court—through the African Union—arguing the ICJ could not resolve the political issues surrounding the maritime boundary.
On June 28, a group of 20 petitioners moved to the Kenyan High Court, seeking to stop the state from taking part in the case, arguing the contest over an area of 100,000km2, threatened to alter the national boundaries, which argue was illegal.
Last month, the National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale introduced a motion, which if approved could mean Kenya could deploy its navy near the disputed area.
The two countries have also recently imposed tougher immigration or air navigation controls on one another.