Judiciary is regarded as the parking lot of corruption cases - CJ Koome

In Summary

•During my interview, I shared my vision of the judiciary that is independent, efficient, accessible and responsive to the aspirations of Kenyans and a true guardian of the rule of law.

•My team will build working relationships with other actors in the administration of justice.

CJ Martha Koome during her assumption of office ceremony on May 24, 2021.
CJ Martha Koome during her assumption of office ceremony on May 24, 2021.
Image: FILE

It is with great honour and humility that I stand before you today as the 15th Chief Justice of the Republic of Kenya and the third President of the Supreme Court of Kenya under the Constitution of Kenya 2010. I also stand before you as the first female Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court, and indeed the first ever female head of one of the three arms of the government of the Republic of Kenya. It’s not a feat I take lightly, and I am grateful to God for according me this honour and to the Kenyan people who have given me this opportunity to serve our great nation.

Since my nomination was announced, it was aptly described by many as a momentous occasion in the history of this country. And indeed it is, because it is one that assures every girl or boy no matter their circumstances, that it is possible to keep dreaming because Kenya is big enough for all of us, and she gives all people equal opportunities. This historic moment is a product of the opportunities afforded to me by Kenya and Kenyans, from my mother Naomi Irangu Rutere to the Retired Judge of the Supreme Court, the Mr. Justice RSC Omollo who recommended me to be a Judge.

It is also the harvest of the seeds planted and nurtured by many women who have come before me, with Allow me then to name a few, because I am walking in their footsteps: Field Marshall Muthoni Wa Kirima, who fought in the Land and Freedom Army (Mau Mau) and is the only Kenyan woman we know of to hold the rank of Field Marshall. Pricilla Abwao, the only female member of the Legislative Council who represented Kenya at the Lancaster House conference. Grace Onyango, the first woman Member of Parliament. Mrs. Nyiva Mwendwa , the first woman appointed as a Cabinet Minister. The Retired Hon. Lady Justice Effie Owour, the first female Magistrate, Judge of the High Court and Court of Appeal; and many other unspoken and uncelebrated women who in their big and small spaces, continue to break barriers and who have made the present possible.

The last thirty years of my life have been in service of the law. Beyond being a career, this journey has been a calling, a privilege, and a life commitment. I started off as an optimistic law student juggling the roles of a young mother, a wife and a student. I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in law and gradually progressed to a Legal Associate, putting my new found knowledge to

use in service of women who had been disempowered, and learning how antiquated laws and delayed processes can further marginalize and entrench injustice. These lessons of disempowering of women stayed with me as I opened my own law firm and  worked with FIDA and others in the pursuit of human rights protections. They would also inform my decision to defend those whose rights were infringed upon by the state during the one-party rule.

As I argued these cases for political detainees during the Moi era, I came to deeply appreciate the value of a judiciary that was impartial and free from the influence and control of other actors. For how can an institution under the control of another be impartial or adjudicate fairly? For the scales of justice to function properly there can be no undue influence not even a small stone or fingertip can be permitted to tip the scales. This belief as well as the belief in human rights, the dignity and equality of every person is what led me to lend my heart, knowledge and soul to join other

Kenyans in the struggle for constitutional reform that would culminate in the Constitution of Kenya 2010.

When I crossed the bar, moving from arguing cases before the bench to determining them on the bench, it was because I wanted to be part of the solution to challenges in our justice system. That was almost eighteen years ago and, in the Judiciary, I have found committed colleagues and an institution that has progressively made great strides in ensuring greater access to and delivery of justice for Serving – first in Family Division of the High Court, then as a Resident Judge in Nakuru & Kitale High Court and then Commercial Division of the High Court, the Environment and Land Court and finally the Court of Appeal, I have learnt that changing the nature of the system is within reach.

I am delighted to be taking over the leadership of the Judiciary at a time when the momentum for transformation is on an upwards trajectory. I have witnessed many dramatic changes in virtually all facets of the institution since I joined.

I would like at this point to express my sincere gratitude to the retired Chief Justice Willy Mutunga whose blueprint, the Judiciary Transformation Framework, set the foundation for the fundamental changes we are enjoying today, and to the immediate former Chief Justice David Maraga, who gallantly sustained CJ Mutunga’s transformation with many initiatives that focused heavily on service delivery. Through the efforts by my predecessors, we now have a judiciary that is more accessible to the people of Kenya, a corps of judicial officers and staff who are sufficiently equipped to perform their duties  with pride and confidence; physical and  other  infrastructure that is extensively improved, and the necessary structures for cooperation and coordination with our key

During my interview, I shared my vision of the judiciary that is independent, efficient, accessible and responsive to the aspirations of Kenyans and a true guardian of the rule of law. My team will build working relationships with other actors in the administration of justice; to reach our court users and other parties with a view of building their  capacity with knowledge that will empower them to bear their own agency and to become champions for justice. When everybody becomes an agent and champion for justice, I believe this country will start looking for our own indigenous solutions that lead to  reconciliation and peace. Moreover, many will avoid violence, conflict and other pitfalls or black spots that lead to endless court cases.

To achieve this shared vision one of my priorities with your support is building an efficient institution. I would like to laud judicial officers and staff who have developed a culture of innovation and inclusion in an operating environment with inadequate resources in an effort to serve Kenyans to whom we are beholden. This has meant judges, magistrates and kadhis are working under enormous caseloads with outdated modes available to them to deliver timely and efficient judgements.

We are still grappling with unacceptably high levels of case backlog despite the efforts of the last ten (10) years that had significantly reduced the number of old cases. CJ Maraga’s tenure focused on all courts concluding all cases that were five (5) years old and above. We will continue that trajectory and  ensure that at any given time, no case should be in the justice system for longer than three (3) years. This is a target that is possible to achieve if we all embraced a case management system and the multi- door approaches that are now available to us such as the court users committees, court annexed mediation, small claims court and alternative justice

Embracing the use of technology as a primary tool in our work has been a key focus area of When I look back at the past year, I am reminded of the truth that even in the darkest of human experience there can be a bright side to it. When the COVID-19.

Global pandemic paralyzed judicial activities  across the country early last year, it became necessary to expedite the adoption of technology and we will continue to mainstream its use in our work, starting with the expansion of the electronic filing service and other ICT initiatives. In the world we live in today, technology is the great enabler without which we cannot achieve our core service delivery objectives.

To achieve this shared vision: the second area I request for your support is in improving access to justice. We are yet to achieve our Constitutional commitment of establishing a High Court station in every County, and a magistrate’s court in each of the 290 sub-districts. In some parts of the country, our people still have to travel for days on end to access the nearest court. We should always be conscious of the plight of the parties who come to Let us seek to understand what it takes for a party to appear in our courts be they litigants, witnesses or advocates. We know too well that for some parties to find their way in our courts, they may have made far reaching sacrifices. Maybe to be able to come to court they have sold their only possession, it may be their only livestock, a goat or a cow to file a case, to find bus fare and attend court. We should always be aware of their vulnerabilities and frustrations; be they big commercial conglomerates, small kiosk owners, peasant farmers or victims of crimes. They all bear the burden of anxieties that are attendant to long periods of waiting for justice.

A decade after promulgation it is imperative that we expedite some of the promises of the 2010 Constitution so that Kenyans can realize the benefits. As an institution that generates almost Kshs. 3 billion shillings annually, this revenue can be an important first step in addressing some of the challenges we currently face. It is important to note that  The Judiciary Fund which is established under Article 173 of the Constitution is yet to be operationalized. We will continue to build the case for additional funding and a sustainable budget for these investments and judiciary functions based on our track record and the needs of Kenyans. My role is to advocate for the resources to ensure that the structures needed are physically and representationally present at every court station so that every player can enjoy the fruits of this system. Additionally, I will champion for resources to revamp of our data, registry, and technology systems.

Having served as chair of the NCAJ special task force on children’s matters, I understand too well the importance of the NCAJ in providing collaboration and coordination of the justice sector. I have spoken about the importance of a legislation to anchor the NCAJ in a statute that creates a structured mechanism for the cooperation and coordination among inter branch actors involved in the justice chain. I look forward to working with the National Assembly and indeed all stakeholders to help us develop systems and mechanisms that facilitate greater efficiencies along the justice chain and especially between arms of government.

I also want to recognize and applaud our developments partners such as the World Bank, the Ford Foundation, UNDP, UNHCR, IDLO, UNODC, the US Department for Justice among others and we are grateful for their continued support. We pledge to continue to be prudent in the use of resources and to seek greater efficiencies to ensure value for money. With our independent fund in place, we can leverage resources from partners interested in the administration of justice in response to the needs of Kenyans.

All coins have two sides – and as I celebrate the tenacity and hard work of some of our officers and staff, I cannot be blind to those whose actions bring all of us down. I recognize corruption is endemic and problematic in two main ways; first there are many corruption cases that are pending in the courts and this has largely lowered the perception of the judiciary and in this regard, the judiciary which happens to be at the end of the chain link of justice is regarded as the parking lot of corruption cases. Secondly, even though there are some structures for curbing corruption, such as the establishment of the Office of Judiciary Ombudsman, we have not succeeded to effectively deal 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 continues to be an active threat to the independence of the judiciary.

My dear colleagues, the oath of office that l took so as to qualify to assume the office of  the  Chief Justice,  is not different from that which was taken by all of us, Judges, Magistrates, Khadhis and members of the Tribunals. No wonder, in his after  speech,  His Excellency the President who graciously witnessed the ceremony was compelled to re-cite  these  profound words; “Impartiality, Independence, Fairness, power to protect the Constitution, to render service with integrity and competency” among These words should never depart from our hearts and the fact that power to exercise that authority is donated to us by the people of Kenya. We should strive to be fair and expeditious in our work. We are servants of the people.

One area we should all guard is  the  independence  of  the Judiciary. During the tenure of Chief Justice C. B. Madan he described the role of a judge in the following words “A Judge is a Judge whether he is newly appointed or an old The former has the benefit of his latest learning, the latter the advantage of experience. Both are people of honour and scholarly. Both are conscientious and judicious individual imbued with reason. Both are dependable and do not make wild surmises. Both act upon consecrated principles. Both get a fair share of juristic skills. Both are jealously scrupulous and impartial. Both are 24- carat gold. Both act free from doubt, bias and prejudice. Both speak no ill of any litigant. Both are torchbearers for stability of society. Both are strugglers for liberty.

Ladies and gentlemen, the challenges we are facing today about the independence and impartiality of the judiciary is an old hat. These words were delivered in a Judgment at a time when judicial courage and decisional independence were rare. They continue to guide us today as we consolidate the gains achieved under our new constitutional dispensation. Justice Madan set a high standard which we can achieve, first as Kenyans and secondly, as Judges, Magistrates, Kadhis and Members of Tribunals.

Thankfully for us, judicial independence is anchored and ring-fenced in the Constitution, it behooves on every Judge, every judicial officer to decline any invitation to rule on any case based on bias, or ill will. Brother and Sister Judges and Judicial officers, let us stick to the rule of law, let us do that which the Constitution, the Law and our Oath of office tells us to do. It tells us not to decide cases based on the direction of any party or I also assure you my dear colleagues that we will respect and enforce the decisional independence of individual judges and magistrates. But we will also strive to ensure that all those who walk down the corridors of our courts will go home feeling that justice has been their shield and defender.

While we will guard this independence jealously, we are equally aware that we are accountable; and in the delivery of service we work with other arms of government and stakeholders. We are conscious that alone as the judiciary we cannot succeed in delivery of services. My vision of the Judiciary is one that will constructively engage with the other arms of Government for the mutual benefit of I see a Judiciary which will be a leader in accountability and integrity.

In my courts, I am well known for regularly saying: Let me conclude this mThis is the same attitude and energy that I bring to the office of the Chief Justice. If there are cases to be heard, let us conclude them. If there are problems to be solved, let us resolve them. If there are barriers to overcome, let us overcome them.

If there are changes to be made, let us make them. I invite you all to join me in this journey so that together we can move the Judiciary and our Country to a better, more secure future.

Thank you very much, and God bless you all!