Justice Koome is expected to don a different pair of shoes from retired Justices David Maraga and Willy Mutunga as she becomes Kenya’s third Chief Justice since the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution.
Making the historic announcement this week after interviewing ten candidates before a live audience, Professor Olive Mugendi, acting Chair of the Kenya Judicial Service Commission, nominated Justice Koome to President Uhuru Kenyatta for appointment as Chief Justice, subject to approval by Parliament.
Justice Koome is 61, born in a village called Kiithiu in Meru county in eastern Kenya. Her legal experience spans 33 years, the bulk of which she served as a human rights defender. She is an Appellate Judge heading a criminal division and an expert in child and family law. Last year Justice Koome was recognised by the United Nations for championing the rights of children in Kenya’s justice system.
During her interview, Justice Koome said, “I grew up in a humble peasant family. We were 18 children. My father was a polygamist and I was my mother’s eighth child. My leadership orientation started early, I started mimicking my mother to see how I could help reduce the burden. Because of her commitment, I was able to go to school and reach where I am today. That training grounded me well.”
Justice Koome graduated with a law degree from the University of Nairobi in 1986 and later received a postgraduate diploma from Kenya School of Law in 1987. She obtained a Master’s degree from the University of London in 2010.
Asked about the challenges she would face as Chief Justice she said, “It will be historical for this commission to nominate a woman for the office of the Chief Justice because it has never happened before.”
“Leadership is gender-neutral. None of the attributes of my being a woman would do anything in the role of Chief Justice. It is skills that will deal with the challenges we face within the judiciary,” she added.
The office of the Chief Justice is the independent temple of justice in Kenya. The judiciary is one of the three arms of State which include the executive, parliament and the judiciary, as established under Article 10 and Article 159 of the Constitution of Kenya, which Justice Koome was instrumental in drafting.
Justice Koome has overcome a myriad of challenges to emerge as the country’s top jurist. She was up against judges with years of experiences like Fredrick Ngatia, who represented President Uhuru Kenyatta in the infamous 2017 election dispute, Justice William Ouko, Professor Patricia Kameri Mbote, Justice Chitembwe Juma, Phillip Kipchirchir Murgor, Justice Nduma Mathews, Judge Yano Alice, David Marete and Professor Moni Wekesa.
While the former Chief Justice David Maraga’s tenure will be remembered for improving access to justice and building courts on the foundations of Willy Mutunga’s judicial reforms, all eyes now will be watching how Justice Koome combats the corruption that still plagues a big part of the justice system.
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