On Friday 21st May 2021, Honourable Lady Justice Martha Karambu Koome took oath of office as the Chief Justice of the Republic of Kenya. In an event witnessed by the Head of State, the Attoney General, Judges of the High Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court; amongst other dignitaries at the State House, Nairobi, the Chief Justice swore to diligently serve the people of the Republic of Kenya and to impartially do justice in accordance with the Constitution without fear, favour, bias, affection, ill- will, prejudice or any political, religious or other influence.

Her inauguration comes after a stream of legal and socio- political hurdles. Before her appointment, Chief Justice Koome had an illustrious experience in the legal industry; from her admission to the Roll of Advocates in 1987whereafter CJ Koome practised law until 2003 when she was appointed as a Judge of the High Court, a position she served in until 2012 when she was elevated to the then apex Court- The Court of Appeal.

CJ Koome has, in her legal career leading to her appointment to the helm of the Kenyan Judiciary not only displayed diligence at work but also a steadfast leader. While in private practice, CJ Koome served in the Council of the Law Society of Kenya from 1993-1996, during which period she served under the leadership of former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga who was the then Chairperson. CJ Koome also served in several leadership capacities in the civil society including one time Chairperson of the Federation of Women Lawyers- FIDA. While at the Bench, she once served as the Chairperson of the Kenya Magistrates and Judges Association in 2012 and in 2018, unsuccessfully contested for the position of President of the Court of Appeal; a seat won by Justice William Ouko, together with whom they were inaugurated to join the Supreme Court of Kenya.

Honourable Lady Justice Martha Karambu Koome

Honourable Lady Justice Martha Karambu Koome

Her appointment has nonetheless not been spared from a number of legal and socio- political hurdles. Under the Constitution of Kenya, the selection of Judges and Magistrates is the mandate of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC); and independent commission established under the Constitution and statute. JSC comprises the Chief Justice (as Chairperson), 1 representative each from the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, the High Court and the Magistrates’ Court; 2 representatives from the Law Society of Kenya, 1 representative nominated by the Public Service Commission, 2 people appointed by the President to represent public interest and the Attorney General. The 11 member committee conducts interviews to select Magistrates, Judges and judicial staff.

The JSC received memoranda from the members of the public on the qualification, integrity and competence of the candidates; among them was one from LSK President Nelson Havi who urged the JSC not to consider CJ Koome and 3 other candidates who he claimed had personal integrity, competence and suitability issues. All the candidates answered to those allegations levelled against them. CJ Koome also threatened to sue LSK President over his remarks.

During the interviews for the position of Chief Justice, 4 individuals filed Petitions in the High Court of Kenya to stop the process on the grounds that 3 of the Commissioners should be removed from office, the JSC should publish the qualification matrices for the candidates, and that the DCJ should be the one to chair the interview process. The High Court on 21st April 2021 temporarily stopped the process. However, in a swift retaliatory manoeuvre, the JSC and the Attorney General filed an Appeal in the Court of Appeal which halted the implementation of the High Court’s order. The decision of the Court of Appeal gave a lifeline for the interview process leading to the selection of CJ Koome.

Lady Justice Philomena Mwilu and Lady Justice Martha Karambu Koome

Lady Justice Philomena Mwilu, Deputy Chief Justice of Kenya and Lady Justice Martha Karambu Koome, Chief Justice of Kenya

Her selection by the JSC was followed by her vetting and approval by Parliament and subsequent appointment by the President of Kenya. Though criticized by many as abnormally expeditious, the CJ Koome inauguration process was an actual display of Executive, Judicial and Legislative efficiency. Additionally, her appointment also sparked concerns from political players who termed it insensitive to the country’s regional balance.

As she addressed the nation after her inauguration, CJ Koome pledged to be a team player, to serve the people of Kenya faithfully and impartially, and while acknowledging that she was the first, she stated that she would definitely not be the last woman Chief Justice of the Republic of Kenya.

CJ Martha Koome joins the list of eminent Kenyan women leaders including Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu, Chief Registrar of the Judiciary- Anne Amadi, Presiding Judge of the High Court and Employment and Labour Courts, LSK CEO Mercy Wambua, Governors Charity Ngilu and Anne Waiguru, Cabinet Secretaries for Sports, Defence and Foreign Affairs amongst other Kenyan women of many firsts.

At the People’s Accolade Law Magazine, we appreciate African women who lead African Judiciaries such as Lady Justice Nemat Abdullah Khair- Chief Justice of Sudan, Lady Justice Maria de Fátima Coronel President of the Supreme Court of  Cape Verde, Lady Justice  Lúcia da Luz Ribeiro – President of the Constitutional Court of Mozambique, Lady Justice Danielle Darlan President of the Constitutional Court of Central African Republic, , Lady Justice Meaza Ashenafi- President of the Supreme Court of Ethiopia, Lady Justice Hildah Chibomba, President of the constitutional Court of Zambia; Hon Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar GCON, first female Chief Justice of Nigeria; Justice Mathilda Twomey, immediate former Chief Justice of Seychelles; Lady Justice Manassa Danioko, immediate former President of the Constitutional Court of Mali; Nthomeng Majara, former Chief Justice of Lesotho; Sophia Akuffo, former Chief Justice of Ghana; Lady Justice Aloysie Cyanzayire, former Chief Justice of Rwanda among others

The author Brian Onyango is the Head of East African Operations at The PALM. Send feedback to Onyango@thepalmagazine.com

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