Why Justice Maraga beat 11 candidates to head Judiciary

Justice David Kenani Maraga. (Photo: Willis Awandu/Standard)

Court of Appeal judge David Kenani Maraga Thursday evening welcomed the news of being the next Chief Justice with much delight.

Speaking to The Standard, the judge said just like any Kenyan, he received the news while at home through media, adding that he will be glad to serve Kenyans as their next Judiciary boss.

"I am grateful to God for the Judiciary Service Commission (JSC) to have nominated me. I am hopeful that the process will be completed, and be able to work with Kenyans," he said.

Justice Maraga's name has been forwarded to President Uhuru Kenyatta for appointment as the Chief Justice of Kenya. He trounced 11 other candidates who had applied for the job.

The President is required by law to send his name to Parliament for vetting before he officially appoints him, as required by the Constitution.

Maraga's vast experience in legal private practice, and on the bench, special consideration as a Judiciary insider, and good working relations with colleagues were the three main pillars on which he rode on to beat the other heavyweight contenders including judges of the Supreme Court, which ranks higher than his appellate court.

"It was an easy decision for us to make after the long deliberations. Justice Maraga stood out as the best candidate for Chief Justice based on his integrity, legal achievements, good temperament, his independence and ability to co-ordinate Judiciary affairs," said JSC commissioner Tom Ojienda in telling the country why the team settled on him.

Although the law allows JSC commissioners to vote on their choice of candidate, both Margaret Kobia (acting commission chairperson) and Prof Ojienda revealed that they did not go to that extent as Maraga emerged the best candidate in all the areas they were assessing.

"The JSC has after lengthy deliberations recommended Hon Justice David Kenani Maraga for appointment as Chief Justice, and has submitted the name to his Excellency the President," announced Prof Kobia, yesterday.

The judge was also nominated on the basis of being an insider who understands various courts' operations; from magistrates' courts, subordinate courts and superior courts, having been a lawyer for 25 years, a High Court judge for eight years and Court of Appeal judge for five years.

"We evaluated the candidate based on the requirements for the position of Chief Justice and have nominated the most qualified in that evaluation...He will provide the best leadership in the Judiciary given his long standing legal career," explained Kobia.

She described Maraga as a long serving judge who will most likely get along with most of his colleagues.

But sources within JSC explained of intrigues and other factors that were at play that led to the choice. One commissioner is understood to have dissented on the choice of Maraga.

Others who were in close contention were justices Alnashir Visram, Jackton Boma Ojwang and Dr Smokin Wanjala.

According to Ojienda, Maraga was the leading candidate with 10 points clear of any other candidate after assessing all the criteria, making him the popular and unanimous choice of the JSC commissioners.

It was felt that the Supreme Court was laden with deep divisions and picking one of them would further widen the fissures and do nothing to seal the cracks.

Justices Wanjala and Ojwang, who were among those interviewed for the CJ's job, sit in the Supreme Court.

"It was time to pull the Judiciary from the abyss and Mr Maranga fits the bill," explained one commissioner.

The reasoning among many of the commissioners was that he is not a polarising figure unlike some of those interviewed for the position.

"He is generally likeable and easy to get along with," said another commissioner.

"We are dealing with an institution going through a sort of a cleansing period, Mr Maraga is 'Mr Clean'. He believes hard work has its reward. He will expect no less from the judges and magistrates under his charge. So lazy judges whose rulings are written on their behalf or are corruptly influenced are on notice," one commissioner explained.

The fact that Maraga was considered a Judiciary insider who rose through the ranks was seen as a positive attribute to avoid the resistance an outsider would obviously attract.

Also his rapport with Parliament partly swayed JSC his way.