Koome cleared to become next Chief Justice

Thursday, May 20th, 2021 00:00 |
Chief Justice Martha Koome. Photo/PD/File

President Uhuru Kenyatta yesterday formally appointed Justice Martha Koome as the country’s new Chief Justice.

A Gazette Notice confirming her appointment came out hours after Parliament approved her nomination.

Koome is expected to be sworn in today before assuming office to replace retired Justice David Maraga.

“I, Uhuru Kenyatta, President and Commander-in-Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces, appoint Martha Karambu Koome to be the Chief Justice of the Republic of Kenya,” read the Gazette Notice.

The National Assembly had approved a report by its Justice and Legal Affairs Committee, which recommended Koome during yesterday’s morning sitting.

Koome becomes indepedent Kenya’s  15th Chief Justice and the first woman to hold the position in the country. 

Her appointment comes at a time all eyes are on the Judiciary following last Thursday’s High Court ruling that declared the constitutional amendment project under the Building Bridges Initiative unconstitutional.

The Attorney General, Opposition chief Raila Odinga and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission have separately vowed to challenge the judgement in the Court of Appeal, a matter that could land on Justice Koome’s in-tray to pick Supreme Court judges to hear the petition should the matter go further than the Court of Appeal.

Earlier yesterday, National Asembly Members unanimously approved Koome’s nomination with calls on her to uphold and defend the Constitution “to the letter”.

Leader of Majority Amos Kimunya said Koome has had a good and promising history in her legal career spanning 33 years.

“During the interviews the Lady judge promised to be non-political and committed to use her office to fight graft. We look forward to her to fulfill the promises in her new endeavour,” said Kimunya.

Parliament, Kimunya said, expects the new head of Judiciary to “bring order” in the third arm of government by reining in judges who cause friction between the two arms of government by issuing orders on flimsy grounds.

There have been incidents where courts have attempted to gag Parliament from conducting its mandate to legislate.

Kimani Ichung’wa (Kikuyu) asked State officers to respect their judicial counterparts and asked Koome to cultivate a culture where the dignity of judges and magistrates is revered.

“We want a country where people like Jubilee Party Secretary General Raphael Tuju are asked to act with restraint and respect judicial officers,” said Ichung’wa in reference to Tuju’s attack on judges who issued a ruling stopping the BBI process.

Past mistakes

The MP said he hoped the CJ will not repeat her past mistakes and cited an incident where she presided over a case at night and the controversial ruling on a corruption case pitting the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) and Erad Company.

“It is our hope as legislators that you will not be taken hostage by the State, especially on the BBI case,” Ichung’wa said.

Millie Odhiambo (Suba North) hailed Koome’s achievements, saying it has given Kenyan women hope. She, however, asked the President not to be swayed to remove Deputy CJ Philomena Mwilu from office.

“I plead with the appointing authority to retain the current DCJ, there is no rule that says two women cannot hold top offices just like their male counterparts,” Odhiambo said. Koome emerged top among nine candidates who faced the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) last month.

The JSC then forwarded her name to the President, who then submitted it to Parliament for vetting. 

During the interviews, Justice Koome told the JSC panel that among her top priorities upon assuming office would be to sort out the issue of the pending appointment of 41 judges by the President. 

“We will hold regular meetings with the Executive and Legislature to end the standoff. We must discuss this issue of the 41 judges with the President, find out where the problem is and resolve it,” Koome said.

Kenyans will also be watching how the new CJ will relate with the President of the Law Society of Kenya Nelson Havi, who had raised objections to her appointment, based on her handling of a dispute between NCPB and Erad.

During the vetting by the JSC, Koome said her decision, which was shared with other Bench members, saved the country from losing public funds.

Justice Koome said Havi questioned her ruling in 2012 in a case where Erad supplied maize to NCPB and obtained a decree to be paid some money but the board appealed the decision.

While applying their discretion, Koome said the Bench issued a stay of execution to stop the board from paying the money until the case was heard and deetermined.

Raises objections

She said she was vindicated after some of the directors of Erad were later charged with fraud and jailed for many years.

“The case has gone on and the directors have been charged with fraud and this vindicates us because it is our order that stopped the country from losing public money,” Koome told the commissioners.

Another matter that has been haunting the judge is the one involving the repeat presidential election in 2017 where the High Court had ruled that Returning Officers and their deputies were illegally in office, orders that were later suspended by Koome and her colleagues in the Court of Appeal.

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