In Gicheru, a CJ who was beyond reproach

Justice Evan Gicheru is on Sunday serving his last day as Chief Justice. In a public service career spanning four decades that took him from a lowly district officer in Wajir to Chief Justice, Justice Gicheru had a remarkable and successful career.

Like many distinguished Kenyans, Justice Gicheru has, however, not been feted by the Judiciary or the Law Society of Kenya. That is not surprising.

Kenyans don’t like feting their illustrious sons and daughters. As someone who knows a few things about Justice Gicheru, I salute him. I salute him for his distinguished selfless service to this country. He had shortcomings. But who doesn’t?

Justice Gicheru was appointed Chief Justice in February 2003. I was elected chairman of the Law Society of Kenya in March 2003. In him I found a chief justice who agreed with LSK on the challenges facing the Judiciary.

In him I found a man who had a profound understanding of what ails the Judiciary. In him I saw a man who, no matter the cost, was ready and willing to reform the Judiciary.

Before we harshly judge Gicheru, please appraise his predecessors, and especially the last two before him.

If one is honest and objective, the comparison and contrast between him and some of his predecessors will show that Justice Gicheru had positively and progressively changed the Kenyan Judiciary in a manner none of his predecessors ever envisaged or thought would be possible.

Justice Gicheru brought to the Judiciary independence that was unimaginable. For a Judiciary that took instructions from the Executive in routine discharge of its daily functions, Justice Gicheru ended the symbiotic relationship between the Judiciary and the Executive.

Justice Gicheru brought to the chambers of the Chief Justice personal integrity that became an example to be emulated by younger members of the Judiciary.

When judges were, like other influential members of the Kanu regime, given houses and plots in Upper hill, Riverside and beach plots in Mombasa, Justice Gicheru refused to partake of that generosity.

There were many times when the highest office in the Judiciary was associated with bribes and fixing of cases.

Justice Gicheru, to his credit, showed that his office was beyond reproach. Justice Gicheru took the courts and justice system to the people of Kenya.

He ensured that the members of the judiciary were representative of the face of Kenya.

Justice Gicheru’s greatest achievement for which Kenyans are eternally grateful is the successful radical surgery. It was both a historic and noble exercise.

The radical surgery removed a third of the judges of the High Court and the Court of Appeal. It confronted judicial impunity and corruption. It relatively cleaned the institution for some time.

It restored the faith and trust of Kenyans in the justice system. Just as I admit that the radical surgery provided a temporal solution to the entrenched problems facing the Judiciary, so did Justice Gicheru.

The narrative of historic events is always written by those who implemented the idea of the revolution and those whose entrenched interests were overthrown. The radical surgery is no different.

Kenyans hear some timid hoarse voices periodically lamenting that the radical surgery was a witch hunt, an utter failure. These are revisionists who want to falsely rewrite history and trash the ideals and result of the radical surgery.

Justice Gicheru has been accused of swearing in the President hurriedly following the 2007 elections. He rightly answered that he had no control over the process. He is absolutely right.

His role is not to take sides in disputes. He resolves it when it comes to court.

Wasn’t Chief Justice Roberts of America summoned to the White House very early in the morning to swear in President Obama a second time in the privacy of the White House?

The hour and amount of sunlight are irrelevant in swearing-in ceremonies.

The writer is the publisher of Nairobi Law Monthly [email protected]