Kenya: New CJ Martha Koome Vows of Better Judiciary

As she officially took over yesterday, Chief Justice Martha Koome included timely case resolution, an end to bad blood between the Judiciary and other branches of government, and justice for all Kenyans who seek it among her long list of promises.

“I see a judiciary that will be a leader in accountability and integrity. In my courts, I am well known for regularly saying: ‘Let me conclude this matter. ’This is the same attitude and energy that I bring to the office of the Chief Justice,” she said.

Even as her predecessor, Justice David Maraga, warned her of the difficult challenge ahead, she vowed to reduce the growing case backlog. The Chief Justice promised that no case would drag on for more than three years in the justice system. 

She also agreed to work with Nelson Havi, the President of the Law Society of Kenya, who had objected to her nomination, citing a ruling she issued on the eve of the repeat presidential election in 2017. She also vowed to protect judges’ and magistrates’ independence. 

Bunnaj Africa learnt that in a sobering speech delivered during the assumption of office ceremony held outside the Supreme Court building, former CJ Maraga warned of “an extremely demanding office”.

CJ Koome’s predecessor, who had a tense working relationship with the Executive in his final days in office, advised the new Chief Justice to use the resources she has from various stakeholders to deliver. 

“Madam Chief Justice, please keep reminding all of us, everybody, that constitutional power is constrained power so that everybody keeps to his or her lane,” Justice Maraga said.

Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu told her new boss that although the two retired CJs [Mr Maraga and Dr Willy Mutunga] had set in motion the Judiciary’s transformation agenda and direction, there is no guarantee that the going will be easy.

“I’ve discovered that for the short period I’ve served there [in an acting capacity],” Justice Mwilu said.

CJ Koome noted that there are many corruption cases pending in the courts: “We have not succeeded in effectively dealing with these cases, as noted by former Chief Justice Mutunga in 2016, when he stated that the Judiciary was under capture by agencies within government, the private sector and civil society.”

This, according to the CJ, appears to pose a serious threat to the judiciary’s independence. She stated that her administration would jealously protect the independence of the judiciary while ensuring transparency in service delivery and ties with other government arms and stakeholders. 

She promised to make wise resource allocations and pursue greater efficiencies in order to maximize value for capital. She claims that as an agency that produces nearly Sh3 billion annually, the revenue can be used to resolve some of the Judiciary’s current challenges. 

The Judiciary Fund, formed under Article 173 of the Constitution, has yet to be activated, according to the CJ. She stated that she would pursue new support for the judiciary as well as a long-term budget.

As gathered by Bunnaj Africa, she was handed the instruments of power including the original copy of the Constitution, the Judiciary flag and the State of the Judiciary Report. It was the first public ceremony of assumption of office in the Judiciary.

Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka, Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi, Mr Havi, and acting Judicial Service Commission (JSC) vice-chairperson Olive Mugenda were among the dignitaries in attendance. 

Prof Mugenda urged the CJ to pursue all options to complete the 40-judge panel’s overdue selection, which is still pending President Kenyatta’s signature nearly two years after the JSC nominated them. 

Last year, one of them died before starting work. 

Attorney-General Kihara Kariuki, speaking on behalf of the Executive, assured the new Chief Justice that the government would support her office.

“Let all Kenyans feel that under your leadership, they can get justice from the courts,” the AG said.

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