Idiosyncrasies that won over commissioners

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By Kevin Motaroki

Justice David Maraga is as open-minded as judges come. But even he is alive to the intrigues and politics that characterise appointment to important constitutional offices like his. It was not any different when the JSC interviewed him for Chief Justice; like any seasoned contender, he knew he needed to both victory and concession speeches – even as we concede the latter would not need to be read. He said in an interview with a local TV station that while it was not unexpected, he had been pleasantly surprised by his nomination.

Born in 1951, Justice Maraga earned his Bachelors in Law some 39 years ago from the University of Nairobi’s School of Law. He earned his postgraduate degree from the Kenya School of Law the following year and later did his Masters at the same University.

He has engaged in private practice for most of his career – where he has earned himself the enviable reputation of being scrupulously detailed and honest with clients. He was appointed to the High Court Bench in 2003, and his elevation to the Court of Appeal in 2012 came after the dreaded radical surgery that saw a number of judges either get sacked or retire voluntarily.

It was at this time that created his most famous moment, arguably, in May 2012, three months before he was promoted. Facing the Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board over bribery allegations, he swore by the Bible that he had never taken a bribe, and never would. That statement left the vetting panel wordless, and more or less concluded his vetting.

As High Court judge, he was posted to the High Court in Mombasa before he was transferred to Nakuru, where he served as presiding judge for two years. He was later moved to Nairobi and posted to the Constitutional Review Division, later becoming the head of the Family Division.

Fellow judges describe him as having a “likable demeanour, fiercely independent and an unapologetic stickler to the rule of law”. A Court of Appeal colleague also describes him as reflective and “not given to primitive (tribal) loyalties”.

A stickler of time, Justice Maraga he has been known to apologise every time he is late for court of an appointment. During the interview with JSC, he mentioned, as testimony of “my decisiveness as a person of integrity” the fact that he during his stint at Kisumu, between October 2014 and July 2016, he made 1,250 judgments, thereby clearing case backlogs.

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