What you need to know:
- Prof Patricia Mbote, Justice Martha Koome, and Justice Alice Jepkoech Yano are among the ten candidates eyeing the CJ position.
- Each has built their careers in their own rights in line with the legal profession.
- Other African countries that have had female CJs include Ethiopia, Lesotho, Zambia, Seychelles and Sudan.
Three women are among the ten candidates on the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) interview list for the position of Chief Justice (CJ).
The trio, Prof Patricia Mbote, Justice Martha Koome and Justice Alice Jepkoech Yano, have built their careers in their own rights in line with the legal profession.
Patricia is a Professor of Law at the School of Law, University of Nairobi (UoN), and was conferred the rank of Senior Counsel in 2012.
Her curriculum vitae impresses of her being a renowned and innovative thinker. She was a member of the Committee of Eminent Persons appointed in February 2006, by the then President Mwai Kibaki to advise the government on the way forward for the stalled constitution review process.
During her interview on Tuesday, she confessed to have been tasked to review the Constitutional amendments proposed in the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report and given her advisory thereof.
She is one of the two consultants hired by the joint Justice and Legal Affairs of the National Assembly to advise on the way forward with Constitutional Amendment Bill, 2020.
Together with Dr Collins Odote, they are to advise on the nature of the Bill, public participation and its extent, the way of processing the Bill, the substantive issue of the Bill and status of litigation in courts relating to it.
Prof Mbote earned her doctoral degree from Stanford University in 1999, specialising in property rights and environmental law. She had earlier studied law at UoN, before joining University of Warwick, England for her master’s degree.
During her interview, she said although she has not worked in the Judiciary, her experience in the academia is replicable in her service as the CJ.
“Skills that we get in different places are transferable,” she said.
Prof Mbote preferred not to give her stand on the issue of two-thirds gender rule. Retired CJ David Maraga had advised President Uhuru Kenyatta to dissolve Parliament for failure to pass a law on the respective principle.
“I don’t want to pronounce myself on this, because should I become the Chief Justice, and it comes in, I am sure that’s where people are going to hit me from,” she said.
When asked what kind of CJ she would be as a woman, she calmly responded, “Leadership is not gendered, but men and women bring different values to leadership,” even as she confirmed that she was the first female Law dean.
Justice Koome currently sits at the Court of Appeal. She is in competition to become the President of the Supreme Court with her boss - Justice William Ouko, who is set for the interview on April 21. He is the current President of the Court of Appeal.
Justice Koome is the 2020 UN in Kenya Person of the Year, a recognition that appreciates her work in advocacy for the rights of children in conflict with the law as well as child victims.
She chaired National Council on the Administration of Justice (NCAJ) Special Task Force on Children Matters that analysed gaps and developed policies for creation of children friendly justice system including those with special needs.
JSC interviewed her on Wednesday where she said that her priority as CJ would include enhancing the use of technology in the Judiciary, reduce backlog of cases and operationalise Judiciary funds.
In her 18-years’ service as an insider in the Judiciary, Justice Koome has faced a number of challenges that she bravery solved.
She, for instance, was deployed to Kitale High Court asa resident judge, a court that had not been operational for a year. She said there was a huge backlog of succession cases and the prisons were overflowing with inmates.
“I had to look at the portfolio of the cases. I saw the prison was brimming, so I did revision for the sentences and I was able to reduce the population of the prisons by reducing the sentences,” she said.
Further in two weeks, she reduced the backlog of succession cases by 1,000, she said.
She cited a human capital deficit of 44 per cent, budgetary constraints, lack of infrastructure and clear communication with the public on the rulings as challenges frustrating smooth functioning of the Judiciary.
To address underfunding, she said she could fast-track operationalization of the Judiciary Fund to ensure adequate funds are available to complete projects.
To boost the human resource, Justice Koome indicated her plans to negotiate with the Executive to pave way for the appointment of the 41 judges, whose fate lies in the hands of President Kenyatta.
In July 2019, JSC nominated the judges for the appointment to the Court of Appeal, the Environment and Land Court as well as the Employment and Labour Relations Court, but Mr Kenyatta raised integrity questions on some of them.
Justice Yano, a managing partner at Yano and Company Advocates will be the last candidate on the interview list to face the panel on April 23.She was a member of Prof Yash Pal Ghai-led Constitution of Kenya Review Commission.
Out of the Commission that existed from 2000 to 2005, became the Yash Pal Ghai draft Constitution, the first of its kind after independence.
It is to this commission that first formal propositions of 30-50 per cent women’s representation in all decision making positions and employment were submitted by women rights’ groups, including Caucus for Women’s Leadership, League of Kenya Women Voters (LKWV) and National Commission on the Status of Women.
African countries with female Chief Justice
Lesotho: Nthomeng Justina Majara
In 2014, Majara was appointed Lesotho’s CJ. She was, however, replaced following government’s claim of abuse of office.
Sudan: Nemat Abdullah Khair
Khair was appointed in 2019. In a communication from Transitional Sovereignty Council, which announced her appointment, the 64-year-old is to address "corruption cases and other cases."
Seychelles: Dr Mathilda Twomey
Dr Twomey served from August 2015 to September 2020. In the Southern African Chief Justices Forum, she is described to have taken on the highest case load of a Supreme Court Judge and restored judicial timeliness, efficiency, and transparency. She is said to have “completed 17 per cent of all of the cases completed in the Supreme Court (Civil and Criminal).”
Zambia: Irene Mambilima
The 68-year-old was appointed in 2015, rising from chairperson of Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ), where she served twice between 2005 and 2015. She has a connection with Kenya, having been on election observer missions to Kenya. A profile on Zambia's Judiciary's website, shows a judicial officer who has steadily rose through the ranks.
Ethiopia: Meaza Ashenafi
In 2018, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed appointed the 57-year-old Ashenafi to the position. She is a gender equality advocate and has founded Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association to provide pro-bono services to women unable to afford a legal defence.
She is also the co-founder of Enat Bank, a financial institution whose focus is on empowering women economically.