ONE of Justice Isaac Lenaola’s two sons is an ardent supporter of the Arsenal football club in the English Premier League. And the fact that the judge is a dyed-in-the-wool Manchester United fan has created a perfect opportunity for a game of taunts between father and son. The taunts notwithstanding, Lenaola, the head of the Constitutional and Human Rights Division of the High Court, is unhappy with the current state of his favourite club.
He has come to acknowledge that “the blip”, as Sir Alex Ferguson would describe the current poor run, is temporary and part of the natural order of things. “There is a time for everything. Leicester provides a powerful message that even the least expected can happen,” he says reassuringly. The judge says that he owes his career in law to Francis Kaparo, the chairman of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission and former Speaker of the National Assembly.
It was in 1983 and Kaparo, then a practising advocate, had gone to the Maralal law courts to represent one of his clients in a criminal trial Lenaola, then a Form Three student, had attended court to have a feel of the atmosphere. “Kaparo’s performance in court was so impressive that I instantly liked him. He inspired me to study law,” says the judge and father of two, who grew up herding his father’s goats in Maralal town. That would start Lenaola’s journey into law and upon graduation, the first Samburu ever to study law.
“I was the first lawyer from the Samburu community,” he reveals. “As good as it sounds, it had its challenges...I had no lawyer from the community to look up to or for guidance.” He is among the very few judges who were appointed to the Bench in their 30s. Among the others are Emmanuel O’kubasu and Msagha Mbogholi. His name is constantly linked to the succession in the Judiciary as among the jurists who could replace Chief Justice Willy Mutunga when he retires later in the year.
While not ruling this out, his view is that the office of Chief Justice should be occupied by a judge who, upon completion of his term, retires from the Judiciary. The law provides that a CJ serve a maximum of 10 years. Those who complete the term and are not 70 years old have the option of remaining judges in the Supreme Court. Lenaola disagrees with this arrangement. “This will create tension and my view is that those who occupy that office should be at the tail-end of their professional careers in the Judiciary.”
IN FIVE MINUTES
Many distinctions achieved; many more yet to come
1967: Born in Maralal, Samburu District
1985 - 1986 : Alliance High School ‘A’-levels
1987 - 1990 : University of Nairobi, Bachelor of Law degree
May 1990 - May 1991: Hamilton, Harrison & Mathews Advocates, associate advocate. Thereafter other law firms in Nairobi
June 2001 - June 2004: Constitution of Kenya Review Commission, Commissioner
October 2003 - To date: the Judiciary, Judge.
October 2010 - 2013: The Judicial Service Commission, Commissioner
July 2011 to date: The East African Court of Justice, Deputy Principal Judge
2009 - The Law Society of Kenya Award for distinguished service in the administration of justice
2015 - Order of the Moran of the Burning Spear (MBS), for distinguished service to the nation of Kenya
2015 - The East Africa Law Society Honorary Membership Award for outstanding development of jurisprudence and exemplary service to the Bench in Kenya, East Africa and elsewhere.
2012: “It is the IEBC that will fix the election date once it is sure that sufficient arrangements have been made to make the elections free and fair,” he said in his judgment on the election date.
2015: “I am unable to sit on this matter for personal reasons. In the event I disqualify myself and direct that the file be placed before the Chief Justice to appoint another judge,” he said during the hearing of a case against sacked Cabinet Secretary Michael Kamau.