The highs and lows of Justice Jacktone Ojwang'

Supreme Court Judge Justice Jackton Boma Ojwang'. [Boniface Okendo/Standard]
Suspended Supreme Court Judge Jackton Boma Ojwang’ is the only Kenyan with a higher doctorate in law, which points to his high stature in scholarly law. But an allegation about a dusty road in his rural home now threatens his career.

The judge does not shy away from showing his pride of being a top academician and a member of the country’s topmost court, even in times of adversity of choosing between sinking and surviving.

Being among the first judges to be appointed to the Supreme Court in 2012, many believed Justice Ojwang’ was one of the brains behind formulation of rules of procedure that set the apex court in motion.

His demeanor and sheepish smile can easily confuse one of his tenderness, but inside he is a firm and conservative judge who is keen on detail and a perfectionist who will read his judgment to the last full-stop, even if it means sitting in court for over five hours.

Dissenting opinion

It is not yet lost in Kenyan’s memory when he kept everyone glued to their television for over three hours while reading his dissenting opinion in the 2017 presidential election petition.

When pushed to the corner, he would not let anyone lower his pride and dignity. The judge almost walked out of the Judicial Service Commission during his interview for Chief Justice to replace Dr Willy Mutunga.

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The interview session at one point degenerated into a heated argument between Justice Ojwang' and JSC Commissioner Justice Mohammed Warsame over claims that he was a puppet of the Executive and a person who could not control his anger.

From the time he was appointed to the Supreme Court, Justice Ojwang’ never missed to court controversy, with numerous complaints filed at the JSC against his conduct.

At one point, a group took to the streets in Migori to demonstrate against him.

He, however, dismissed his critics as busybodies who were jealous of his impressive record as an academician and a top judicial officer.

At one point, the judge wrote a letter to the JSC threatening to withdraw his services as a protest to the manner in which his colleagues were hounded out of office after attaining the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Justice Ojwang’s sharp dressing also showed a man who would not opt for cheap things. He even opposed the idea of the JSC interviewing candidates at the Supreme Court Building, saying it was a shame even for judges to operate there.

“I opposed the interviews being conducted at the Supreme Court library because the building is a shame. JSC should conduct interviews in a dignified place but not this building, which should serve as a museum and not a place for judges to sit,” he said during his interview.

Besides the controversies, Justice Ojwang' is a respected legal scholar who would not hide his love for reading and doing academic research.

Despite his tight schedule and having pressure of hearing cases and delivering judgements on time, Justice Ojwang' still found time to write a bulky six-inch high thesis in 2015 for his Doctor of Laws at the University of Nairobi.

He was awarded a Higher Doctorate in Law (LLD) as recognition of his published work and merit in field of law, making him one of the top scholars in the country.

Born in 1950 in Migori County, Justice Ojwang’ went to Homa Bay High School, where he sat his O-Level in 1968 and proceeded to Thika High School for his A-Levels.

He was admitted to UoN’s School of Law and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1974. He immediately enrolled for his Masters in Law, which he obtained in 1976. He went on to get a PhD in comparative constitutional law from Downing College in 1981.

Fresh from earning his PhD, Prof Ojwang’ rejoined UoN as a lecturer, where he rose to become the Dean of the School of Law from 2000 to 2003.

His journey as a judge started in 2003 when he was appointed to the High Court in Nairobi, before being transferred to Mombasa.

In June 2012, he was among the five judges who defeated a pool of more than 20 experienced judges and top lawyers to land the prestigious position at the Supreme Court.

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