CJ Martha Koome promises a better Judiciary as she takes charge

Martha Karambu Koome

Chief Justice Martha Karambu Koome at the Supreme Court grounds on May 24, 2021. 

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

Chief Justice Martha Koome included in her long list of promises the speedy conclusion of cases, an end to the bad blood between the Judiciary and other arms of government, and justice for all Kenyans who seek it as she formally took over yesterday.

“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.

She vowed to reduce the rising case backlog, even as her predecessor, Justice David Maraga, warned her of the tough task ahead. No case will drag in the justice system for longer than three years, the Chief Justice pledged.

She also pledged to work with Law Society of Kenya President Nelson Havi, who had opposed her appointment citing a ruling she made in 2017 on the eve of the repeat presidential election. She further promised to enforce the independence of judges and magistrates.

Constitutional power

But 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 in his last days of office, had a strained working relationship with the Executive, told the incoming Chief Justice to use the support she has from different 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, the CJ said, continues to be an active threat to the independence of the Judiciary. She said her leadership will guard the independence of the Judiciary jealously while ensuring accountability in the delivery of services and in relations with the other arms of government and stakeholders.

She pledged to ensure prudent use of resources and to seek greater efficiencies to ensure value for money.

As an institution that generates almost Sh3 billion annually, she said, the revenue can be used in addressing some of the challenges that the Judiciary currently faces.

Additional funding

The CJ noted that the Judiciary Fund, which is established under Article 173 of the Constitution, is yet to be put into operation. She said she would seek additional funding and a sustainable budget for the Judiciary.

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.

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

Prof Mugenda urged the CJ to explore all avenues to finalise the delayed appointment of 40 judges, which is awaiting President Kenyatta’s signature, nearly two years since the JSC nominated the judges.

One of them died last year before starting the job.

Speaking on behalf of the Executive, Attorney-General Kihara Kariuki promised the new CJ that the government would provide her office with the necessary support.

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