Martha Koome to be sworn in as Kenya’s Chief Justice on Friday


Martha Koome to be sworn in as Kenya's Chief Justice on Friday

In Summary

  • Lady Justice Koome co-founded and chaired the Federation of Women Lawyers, which campaigns for women's rights and offers poor women free legal services and contributed to a landmark 2010 constitution.
  • The bill of rights outlawed discrimination against women, allowed children to derive citizenship from their mothers for the first time and limited discriminatory customary laws on women's property rights.

Martha Koome is set to take her oath of office as Kenya’s Chief Justice at State House, Nairobi on Friday.

A statement from the Judiciary said Chief Justice Koome will then proceed to her new office at the Supreme Court.

“She will be received by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), the Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu, Chief Registrar of the Judiciary Anne Amadi, Supreme Court Judges and the Judiciary Leaders Advisory Council (JLAC),” the statement reads.

Thereafter, on Monday, May 24, 2021, the Judiciary is expected to host an assumption of office ceremony to handover ‘instruments of power’ to the new Chief Justice.

President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed Martha Koome as Chief Justice of the Republic of Kenya on May 19, 2021.

This makes her the first female judge in the country to hold this position.

Her appointment follows the approval by the National Assembly on Wednesday this week.

Lady Justice Koome, who has 33 years of legal experience, cut her teeth representing political detainees such as former prime minister Raila Odinga when he protested against repression under the late president Daniel Arap Moi in the 1980s and 90s.

“She played a key role in the fight for the second liberation from the authoritarian regime of President Moi,” Priscilla Nyokabi, a lawyer and former legislator, told Reuters.

Lady Justice Koome co-founded and chaired the Federation of Women Lawyers, which campaigns for women’s rights and offers poor women free legal services and contributed to a landmark 2010 constitution.

The bill of rights outlawed discrimination against women, allowed children to derive citizenship from their mothers for the first time and limited discriminatory customary laws on women’s property rights.

Enforcing human rights may be the easy part.

The judiciary faces a vast backlog, with many judgements taking at least five years, another candidate for the chief justice position, Nduma Nderi from Nairobi’s employment and labour relations court, said during his interview.

Underfunding has led some courts to halt hearings and a row between the recently retired chief justice and president delayed the appointment of 41 judges.

Corruption is also a problem: 11 out of 53 judges were fired by a vetting panel between 2011-2016.

At her interview, Koome said she had cleared a year-long backlog of cases as a judge in the Rift Valley town of Kitale by commuting jail sentences, speeding manslaughter trials with plea-bargaining and prioritising property succession cases. A lawyer in Kitale confirmed her account.

During her time at the Court of Appeal, Koome and her fellow judges in the central town of Nyeri were commended by authorities for clearing a five-year backlog of cases.

“Kenyans want cases to be heard expeditiously,” she said.

Additional report by Reuters team (Duncan Miriri; editing by Katharine Houreld, Philippa Fletcher, William Maclean)

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