2022 election: Huge task awaits new CJ

Justice Martha Koome

Justice Martha Koome during her interview for the position of Chief Justice on April 14, 2021.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

Chief Justice nominee Martha Koome is poised to have a starring role in the transition of power after the next general election. This function poisoned Justice Koome's predecessor relations with the Jubilee government.

Should the election of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s successor in next year’s election occasion a presidential petition - a dispute is almost certain, given how hotly contested the race is shaping up, the new CJ will lead the Supreme Court judges to decide the case.

And the presidential petition would, for the first time, be heard by the Supreme Court for a much longer period should the proposed constitutional amendments under the Building Bridges Initiative be enacted.

Clause 27 of the Constitutional of Kenya (Amendment) Bill proposes to amend Article 140 that touches on the questions as to validity of presidential election to increase the period during which the Supreme Court is required to hear and determine a petition from 14 days to 30 days.

“This is to provide a more realistic period of finalising the presidential election petition and is informed by previous experience on the same,” the Bill says.

All eyes will also be on the new head of the Judiciary as to how she will handle the bitter rivalry between the executive and judiciary that escalated during the tenure of Justice Maraga.

Justice Maraga’s relations with the Jubilee government hit  rock bottom after the Supreme Court annulled President Kenyatta’s presidential victory in 2017.

Should the BBI be passed, the new CJ will also be the first to operate in a regime with a new Office of the Judiciary Ombudsman, which the judiciary including the former Chief Justice David Maraga resisted citing interference with the independence of the judiciary.

Prior to this, the CJ will be in focus as the proponents of the BBI Bill, a product of the handshake between President Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga, are eager about speedy resolution of court cases on the referendum campaign.

The numerous cases have seen the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) barred from preparing for a referendum until the suits are determined.

During her vetting, Ms Koome said compliance with court orders is critical to the rule of law and she will ensure that they are adhered to.

On the stalemate on the appointment of 41 judges by President Kenyatta, she said the matter can only be solved through negotiation.

“One major problem I see is with perception of independence and interdependence. The Judiciary and Executive are interdependent. This is not a beauty contest of who is serving Kenyans better,” she said.

Justice Maraga exited office officially in January this year on attaining the mandatory retirement age of 70.

He handed over the instruments of power to Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu who is holding the position on an acting basis.

The Chief Justice is the head of the Judiciary, the President of the Supreme Court and also serves as the chairperson of the JSC.

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