Justice Chitembwe Juma is pledging to enhance accountability in the delivery of justice if appointed Kenya’s next Chief Justice amid questions over lack of clarity on his transformation agenda.
In a session that lasted over four hours, Chitembwe faced hard questions ranging from his past judgments to his transformation agenda.
When Acting Chief Justice Philemona Mwilu sought to know what transformation he would bring to the judiciary as the incoming Chief Justice, Chitembwe said he would seek to build on the legacy of his predecessors David Maraga and Willy Mutunga.
While indicating that finances, dealing with public expectations and backlog of cases remains a big challenge, Chitembwe said he will seek to make the judiciary more responsive to the needs of the public if he becomes the country’s next chief Justice.
“Kenyans filing cases expect them to be heard in a timely manner. The complaints about processing and hearing of cases are still there, we are not doing enough and the backlog is still there. My transformation agenda would be to dispense justice within reasonable time. ”Chitembwe said.
During his appearance before the Judicial Service Commission interviewing panel, Chitembwe found himself on the defense over a past ruling on a defilement case. His decision to set free 24-year-old Martin Charo who had been sentenced to 20 years for having sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl coming back to haunt him.
Chitembwe saying the practicality of the law as regards defilement of those aged below 18 years should be considered.
How do you take a 19-year-old young man for 15 years in jail for having a relationship with a 17-year-old girl?” he argued.
Emotions would take the better of Chitembwe, who was the first of the ten candidates to appear before the interviewing panel, when he was reminded of a matter where he was charged in an anti-corruption court and later acquitted. The interviewer seeking to know how his experience would impact his role as the Chief Justice.
Nine other candidates are set to face the panel in an exercise being held at the Supreme Court Buildings and which will come to a close on Friday 23rd April 2021.
Prof. Kameri Mbote will get her chance on Tuesday while Hon. Lady Justice Martha Koome will appear before the Commission on Wednesday.
Justice Marete Njagi will be interviewed on Thursday while lawyer Philip Murgor will appear before the Commission on Friday.
Justice Nduma Nderi , lawyer Fredrick Ngatia, Justice William Ouko, Prof. Moni Wekesa and Alice Jepkoech will appear before the Commission next week.
The Supreme Court is composed of seven judges comprising of the Chief Justice, who is the President of the Court and the Deputy Chief Justice who is also the Vice President of the Court.
Article 166 of the constitution provides guidelines for the appointment of the Chief Justice where the Judicial Service Commission selects one name for parliament’s vetting and approval. Once the name gets parliament’s nod, it is then submitted to the president for formal appointment.
The constitution provides that the appointment of the Chief Justice and other judges of the Supreme Court shall be from among persons who have at least fifteen years’ experience as a superior court judge; or at least fifteen years’ experience as a distinguished academic, judicial officer, legal practitioner or such experience in other relevant legal field.
The search for a new chief justice comes in the wake of proposals as contained in the Constitutional Amendment Bill (2020) introducing a new office known as the Judicial Ombudmsan.
The Judicial Ombudsman is required to receive complaints from the public, investigate, discipline and initiate removal of judicial officers.