Martha Koome: I’ll prioritise appointment of more judges, magistrates

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

Court of Appeal Judge Martha Koome on Wednesday morning told the panel interviewing candidates for the position of Chief Justice that she will be banking on her experience as an insider of the Judiciary to transform courts.

Justice Koome, who appeared before the Judicial Service Commission as the third candidate to face the interviewing panel, said her wealth of experience – locally, regionally and internationally – would come in handy in solving the teething problems facing the courts.

The Court of Appeal Judge, who boasts of over 18 years’ experience in the Judiciary, said that her priorities, should she get the job of Chief Justice, would be to reduce the backlog of cases by facilitating the appointment of additional judges and magistrates, help operationalise the Judiciary Fund to promote its independence, promote the use of technology as well as to build additional courts.

Appoint more judicial officers

“I believe that it is important that we have the Judiciary Fund operationalised so as to make the courts more financially independent and work better. I also think that on the matter of judges and magistrates, the best thing to do is to appoint additional judges and magistrates, including the 41 judges that is currently pending,” Justice Koome said in response to questions by deputy chief justice Philomena Mwilu, a member of the panel.

President Kenyatta has since last year declined to appoint and swear-in 41 judges who the JSC had nominated to various courts on grounds that some had questionable integrity.

This caused a friction between then Chief Justice David Maraga and the Presidency. Justice Maraga said the decision by the Head of State had crippled the operations of courts.

Justice Koome, whose tenure at the Judiciary has seen her serve both as a presiding magistrate and a presiding judge was also put to task to explain some of the challenges she faced as a judge, and how such experiences would inform her work as a Chief Justice.

“I have, in the past, while serving in Bungoma and even in Nakuru, was very much instrumental in reducing the backlog of cases, something that has remained so even today. When I was posted in Bungoma, I did relook into some of the cases, and even reduced sentences of some of the convicts who had demonstrated a change of character, and even commuted some to community service,” she said in response to questions from Prof Olive Mugenda, who is chairing the JSC panel.

Justice Koome is appearing before the 10-member panel interviewing candidates for the position of Chief Justice following the retirement of Justice David Maraga in February.

Asked about her aspirations and motivation for work, Justice Koome said that some of her biggest role models in life were her mother – who despite the odds of lacking proper formal education, raised nine children who later became successful in life -  as well as a number of judges and senior colleagues, locally and internationally.

All the 10 JSC commissioners – Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu (Supreme Court), Justice Mohamed Warsame (Court of Appeal), Justice David Majanja (High Court), Ms Olwande (Chief Magistrates Court), Macharia Njeru (Law Society of Kenya), Ms Ann Amadi (Judiciary Registrar), Mr Kihara Kariuki (Attorney General), Patrick Gichohi (Public Service Commission), Mr Felix Koskei (public representative) and Prof Olive Mugenda (public representative) – are presiding over the selection process.

Debate over BBI

The debate over plans to amend the Constitution through the BBI process cropped up once again during Wednesday interview.

Justice Koome had a painful task of explaining how she would handle petitions filed before the Supreme Court, and the High Court challenging the legality of the BBI process.

The interview panel, challenged Justice Koome to explain how she would handle the two petitions, and whether she would follow the precedent set by the Supreme Court, which referred the matter back to the High Court, despite its place as the country’s apex court responsible for matters of great public interest and as weighty as BBI.

“This is a live issue that is before a court and quite a weighty one, but since you have asked that, I do not comment on its merits and demerits, my take is that if it is of general public interest, then I will read the file, call a meeting of judges and discuss to agree on the way forward and on whether it is a matter that should be dealt with by the Supreme Court of Court of Appeal,” said Justice Koome.

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