Giving life to a colourless Supreme Court, recasting role of JSC and increasing access to justice are standout sectors of focus for CJ Maraga

Suggestions on a multi-pronged approach to counter graft and deal with personnel flops, assert and guard judicial independence, and build on the foundation laid by his predecessor to increase access to justice

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By Ahmednassir Abdullahi, SC

Congratulations to Justice David Maraga on his appointment as Chief Justice of the Republic of Kenya; I welcome him to the burning crucible of the apex Judiciary office. The office of the Chief Justice is both a prestigious judicial seat and a powerful political office. Balancing the duality of the roles, with one eye on a lasting legacy and the other on verifiable deliverables, is the menacing task that awaits Justice Maraga.

The CJ should be under no illusion as to the relationships he should look forward to at the Judiciary; he has many enemies both within and outside it who will conspire against him to make him fail. But he also has equal numbers in friends and well-wishers who want him succeed. He also faces the eager expectations of Kenyans, which are sky-high. He applied to become chief justice alive to these myriad challenges, and was given the job having been found up to the task. Let the action begin!

Rich experience, steely resolve

Justice Maraga has a very short period to execute his agenda and deliver for the people of Kenya. His term is a mere five to six years. He has what it takes to make a mark and leave a memorable legacy. His experience as a legal practitioner, coupled with the fact that he went through the judicial ranks, prepares him very well for the tumultuous task ahead. It also helps matters that he is endowed with an affable and disarming personality wrapped with steely determination, as well as a missionary zeal that should come in handy in navigating the choppy waters of the institution, and the larger politics of the country.

So what are the challenges and opportunities that stare Chief Justice Maraga right in the face? They are many, and I am sure he has a well-drafted and detailed white paper on the same. But I have a few suggestions on some germane issues that he can add to his agenda.

Chief Justice Maraga must address Kenyans and share with them his judicial philosophy, and what they should expect from him as CJ. In my view, he needs to do that within his first 100 days. He must share his vision and allow Kenyans to decrypt his philosophical DNA. He must tell Kenyans, for instance, what the Maraga Supreme Court will stand for.

What is his philosophy on judicial independence, the rule of law, devolution, human rights, constitutionalism and other salient issues of the day? Kenyans expect the Chief Justice to provide firm leadership in the justice sector; he must jealously occupy and protect that space.

The biggest challenge Chief Justice Maraga faces right from the outset is from a domineering Executive and a marauding Legislature. Maraga should know that judicial independence from other arms of government is not negotiable and Kenyans will not allow him to compromise on that. His predecessor Dr Willy Mutunga defined and delineated the contours that demarcate the relationship between the three arms of government. Nobody wants simmering wars between the three arms of government. But Maraga should know that when the Executive and Legislature say they want to have a “cordial relationship” with the Judiciary, they mean a subservient Judiciary that does not second-guess their positions on the important issues.

Kenyans have shed blood for an independent and proud Judiciary. The Constitution protects that, and history is replete with bold chief justices that were fearlessly independent, and poodles that were enslaved by the Executive. Maraga is well advised to not only keep his distance but to be eternally suspicious of the other two arms of government. If he wants to see the odium and scorn Kenyans hold for those who sold an entire institution to the Executive, then Justice Maraga has an exhibit in Speaker Justin Muturi, who how e gleefully handed over the National Assembly to the Executive on a silver platter.

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