Kenya’s Martha Koome vows to protect Judiciary freedom

Martha Koome vows to protect the independence of Judiciary freedom if appointed as Kenya's new chief justice.

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Kenya's Martha Koome vows to protect Judiciary freedom www.africanpolicy.com

Justice Martha Koome pledged to protect the independence of the judiciary if appointed the country’s first female Chief Justice.

During her vetting by the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee of the National Assembly yesterday, the Court of Appeal judge vowed to ensure timely delivery of justice and good working relationships with the other arms of the government.

“The constitution guarantees and protects the independence of the judiciary. No one will threaten or direct how the courts will determine cases. We shall not be under any direction of any person or authority,” Justice Koome told the committee.

The appellate judge has practiced law for 33 years and had an easy time with the committee chaired by Kangema MP Muturi Kigano. However, questions from Tom Kajwang’ (Ruaraka), Kamoti Mwamkale (Rabai), Olago Aluoch (Kisumu Town West) forced her out of her comfort zone.

Mr. Kajwang’ had sought to know how she plans to protect the judiciary from the now popular but infamous “we shall revisit” remarks that President Uhuru Kenyatta uttered on September 1, 2017, after the Supreme Court nullified his election victory.

Wipeout corruption

“I follow the dictates of the Constitution and statutes. I am a judge who looks at society and Kenyans will feel safe with me,” Justice Koome said.

She proposed the enactment of the National Council for Administration of Justice Bill to ensure interdependence within the other two arms of government the same way the national and county governments have the Intergovernmental Relations Act.

She pledged to work with the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations to wipe out corruption in the judiciary.

“No one should pay to get justice. Many corruption cases are pending in court,” Justice Koome said. Corruption cases should be heard and determined within six months, she added. She will also revive stalled projects and operationalise the Judiciary Fund.

On human resources, she pledged to use her “diplomatic skills” to ensure the appointment of the 41 judges recommended three years ago. Of these, 11 were for the Court of Appeal and 30 for the High Court. One of the nominees, however, died last year.

Reforms in the judiciary

She was guarded on how the creation of a Judicial Ombudsman as proposed in the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) Bill would entrench reforms in the judiciary.

“I’ll be shy to say anything about BBI because it’s a matter in court. We are, however, not opposed to reforms in the judiciary that enhance justice. Nothing stops the JSC from advertising for the best person to apply to be Ombudsman,” Justice Koome said. There have been complaints from a section of MPs and civil society organisations that the creation of an Ombudsman appointed by the President will interfere with the independence of the judiciary. Her previous rulings and perceptions that she favours women did not escape the committee.

“There is talk that you are a feminist; that you hate men. Is it true?” posed Suna East MP Junet Mohamed, with Mr. Aluoch seeking to know whether she will lean towards “judicial restraint or judicial activism”.

“Those are not my views. I interpret the constitution and the statutes as required and parties are at liberty to appeal if they disagree with me. I don’t look at a case in terms of a woman or a man, it’s about the facts,” she said.

The committee will retreat to write a report either approving or rejecting her nomination. If the National Assembly approves her nomination, her name will be sent to the President for an appointment.

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