A political storm in Kenya over the presidential appointment of top judicial figures is likely to rage on after a court declared the nominations illegal, and the speaker of parliament declined to rule on the controversy.

President Mwai Kibaki nominated the judicial officials, but Prime Minister Raila Odinga said the appointments were not in line with the constitution because he was not consulted.

Minutes before the speaker's ruling on Thursday, Kenya's High Court said Kibaki's appointments were unconstitutional and blocked state bodies from confirming them to office.

Rights groups representing women had asked the court to stop the appointments saying they disregarded the law and gender equality. All the appointees are men.

The row, which has frayed nerves in the fragile coalition cabinet, looks set to divide the country further after Kenneth Marende, the speaker of parliament, passed the baton to house committees to determine if the appointments were constitutional.

The committees have until next Thursday to come up with their findings for scrutiny and debate by lawmakers.

The constitutionality of the issue is a not a matter to be determined by the house, said Marende. I decline to make a ruling whether the nominations were constitutional or not.

He said earlier he had received impeachment threats over the planned ruling.

Had he ruled the nominations unlawful, Kibaki would have lost face and Marende may have suffered the wrath of the president's allies, who have the numbers to vote him out as speaker.

Some analysts said by asking the house committees to decide on the matter, Marende had in effect ruled for Kibaki because the house organs are predominantly made up of the president's allies. Odinga has faced a rebellion in his party that has seen his political influence in the house dwindle.

On the surface, the ruling was cowardly but if you scratch deeper, this ruling is in favour of Kibaki, political scientist Mutahi Ngunyi said.

By taking the battle to the committees, two-thirds of them are Kibaki-friendly and will allow it to go ahead with an overwhelming majority.

Kenya's new constitution requires consultation on top government posts as well as their endorsement by parliament, unlike in the past when such appointments were the sole prerogative of the president.

The country risks losing international goodwill, and possibly some financial support, if it fails to implement the constitution in a transparent manner.

Investors wary of the political spat pushed the country's benchmark stock index down for the fifth consecutive day to a new low for the year.

The row has has shaken the coalition cabinet, which has shown signs it may crack under the strain.