The man likely to be the next Chief Justice of the Supreme commands wide respect among fellow judges and is considered the first among equals
Justice David Maraga exhibited the qualities the Judicial Service Commission was seeking, including incorruptibility, independence, professionalism and dedication to reform and restoration of confidence in the judiciary.
The 64-year-old jurist is a strict, Seventh-Day Adventist who has said he will not work on Saturday, even for a presidential petition, which might well come his way.
In the recent past, the old guard and new guard engaged in a fierce succession battle. The judiciary also has been buffeted by allegations of impropriety and bribe-taking, all of them denied. A day before his nomination, however, Maraga had handed to the President Uhuru Kenyatta a report recommending removal of Justice Joseph Mutava. He had been investigated on claims of misconduct.
Yesterday the Judicial Service Commission recommended Maraga and forwarded his name to the President.
The Court of Appeal judge emerged the best among 10 applicants interviewed by the JSC.
The presiding judge of the court in Kisumu scored 84 marks. He was closely followed by Supreme Court Judge Smokin Wanjala with 74 marks and US-based law professor Makau Mutua who garnered 70 marks.
Other candidates interviewed were Supreme Court Judge Jackton Boma Ojwang, Court of Appeal judges Alnashir Visram and Roselyn Nambuye. Also on the list were High Court judge Msagah Mbogholi, former judge Aaron Ringera, ambassador Daniel Wambura, senior counsel Nzamba Kitonga, Lucy Wanja and Paul Kongani.
According to sources, Justice Ringera and ambassador Wambura received the lowest scores. Justice Kitonga was fourth, followed by Justice Visram at fifth.
The JSC made the announcement at the Hemingway Hotel in Karen. JSC chair Prof Margaret Kobia said, “The JSC after lengthy deliberations recommended Hon Mr Justice David Kenani Maraga for appointment as CJ and has submitted the name to His excellency.”
At 64, Justice Maraga will serve for a maximum of six years. The constitution has set judges’ retirement age at 70. the Chief Justice will hold office for a maximum of 10 years, or upon reaching 70, whichever comes first.
He is described by colleagues as humble and hard working.
Maraga is the father of three. His eldest daughter is a dentist, the second daughter is doing her master’s degree in actuarial science. His son is studying at St Andrew’s, Turi, in Nakuru.
As a judge he has served in Mombasa, Kisumu and Nairobi. Prior to his appointment as a judge he practised as an advocate in Nakuru.
According to commissioner Tom Ojienda, Justice Maraga stood out from the rest and exhibits essential qualities. These include integrity, commitment to reform and enjoying respect among his peers.
He said the nominee is expected to present a clear path to reducing the vast case backlog. Former CJ Willy Mutunga managed to reduce the backlog by half, from about one million to a little more than 500,000
“The Chief Justice is not not only the head of the judiciary, the President of the Supreme Court and the intellectual head of the judiciary, but also a person who can work well with other arms of the government and at the same time defend the independence of the judiciary. This Judge Maraga has demonstrated,” Ojienda said.
He added Maraga has demonstrated the ability to work with fellow judges. He chaired the Judiciary Elections Petitions Committee, which recommended ways to properly handle election disputes. The committee gave the judiciary an opportunity to continuously learn and improve on its performance in handling election disputes.
Cord leader Raila Odinga welcomed the appointment, saying he was confident Maraga is up to the task. He said he believes the President and Parliament will approve the nomination.
After approving Maraga, as expected, Uhuru will transmit the nomination to Parliament for approval. If approved, Justice Maraga will take over from Chief Justice Willy Mutunga who is credited with defending the independence of the Judiciary.
Mutunga has called Kenya a “bandit economy” and said justice can be difficult to attain from law enforcement and the courts.
After taking early retirement in June, Mutunga said, “The forces of the status quo in the judiciary loudly claim they will return the institution to its ‘old’ sinful glory — so sinful that the public wanted all judges and magistrates sacked as part of the new constitution.”
The next CJ, he said, must pass tests that include political backbone.
Mutunga is credited with restoring Kenya’s confidence in the courts. He also oversaw the increase in the number of judges from 53 to the current 143. He decentralised the Court of Appeal to Kisumu, Nyeri and Malindi.
Mutunga created 17 new court stations, some in remote areas like Garissa, Marsabit and Garsen, to bring justice closer to the people. He opened a court at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
Justice Maraga will be expected to continue with the reform process and restore credibility in the judiciary and its highest court.
This follows the acrimonious retirement of Deputy Chief Justice Kalpana Rawal. Judge Philip Tunoi faced a hearing over claims he accepted a Sh200 million bribe to influence the ruling on the Nairobi election petition in favour of Governor Evans Kidero. He and Kidero denied allegations. Tunoi retired and the inquiry ended.
Cord leader Raila Odinga also challenged the election, but the court found in favour of Uhuru. A number of people, including CJ candidate Makau Mutua, said Uhuru was not legitimately elected and faulted the Supreme Court.
On Monday, the JSC will begin interviews for Deputy Supreme Court Justice. Sixteen applicants are on the short list. Then the commission will interview for judge of the Supreme Court.