Focus turns to 15 as search for Kenya’s new Deputy CJ starts

Court of Appeal Judge Hannah Okwengu will be interviewed on Tuesday

NAIROBI: The search for the country's Deputy Chief Justice kicks off today.

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) will start the two-week marathon interviews for 15 candidates seeking to succeed retired Lady Justice Kalpana Rawal.

JSC last week nominated Court of Appeal judge David Maraga for the Chief Justice position but his nomination awaits presidential and parliamentary approval. 

Dr Isaac Michael Rutenberg is the only male candidate vying for the position of Deputy Chief Justice after David Mwaure Waihiga opted out of the race.

The commission is in race to fill the gap of DCJ and bring quorum to the Supreme Court which has not sat since June following the retirement of Dr Willy Mutunga, Lady Justice Rawal and Justice Philip Tunoi.

JSC chairperson Prof Margaret Kobia commended the commission for making the tough decision in nominating Dr Mutunga's successor and said the same procedure will be used in selecting the DCJ.

"We have successfully concluded the interviews for the CJ and this week we will focus on who will deputise him. We will consider the candidate based on what the job entails guided by the constitutional requirements for that position," said Prof Kobia.

Since the JSC has settled for a man for the CJ, the DCJ is likely to be a female to conform to the gender balance principle at the Supreme Court which currently only has Lady Justice Njoki Ndung'u among the male judges.

High Court Judge Lady Justice Abida Ali-Aroni will be the first to face the JSC panel in the morning before Appellate Judge Agnes Murgor follows in the afternoon.

Court of Appeal Judges Fatuma Sichale and Hannah Okwengu will be interviewed on Tuesday while lawyer Joyce Majiwa and Justice Lydia Achode will have their day on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Lady Justice Martha Koome and former commissioner with the defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya Pamela Tutui take up the challenge.

The commission will have a break on Friday but resume the interviews on Monday next week when Lady Justices Pauline Nyamweya and Philomena Mwilu will be interviewed.

Lady Justice Roselyn Nambuye will have a second chance to secure the DCJ post after losing to Justice Maraga for the CJ position. She will be interviewed on Tuesday October 4 alongside Ecobank's director Surinder Kapila.

On Wednesday October 5, Lady Justice Wanjiru Karanja will be the only candidate. The interviews will conclude on Thursday October 6 with Dr Rutenberg and Judith Mulama Wanjala completing the race.

More intense

The search for the next DCJ is likely to be more intense than in 2011 when Dr Nancy Baraza was selected and in 2013 when only five candidates contested for the position that saw Rawal emerge the winner.

Despite talks of intense lobbying for particular candidates, the JSC has maintained that they will go for the best candidate that fits the criteria of not only being the second in command in the Judiciary but someone who can also help bring unity at the Supreme Court.

Several factors are likely to influence the JSC in making their decision of the DCJ, with age, understanding of the Kenya legal system, experience, networking and academics being major factors.

The other issue which will be at play will be the question of regional balance at the Supreme Court, given that the DCJ must also sit as a judge at the top most court.

According to legal experts, the Supreme Court with its seven judges should represent the face of Kenya with no community being seen as dominating.

"Diversity is the face of the court and without it there will be no public faith. The representation must be fair," said lawyer Ahmednassir Abdullahi.