19 February 2013

Kenya: DCJ Candidate Opposed to Death Penalty

Interviews seeking a candidate to fill the position of Deputy Chief Justice entered the second day on Tuesday, with Rachael Omamo being the first one questioned over her suitability.

Omamo, who appeared before the 10-member panel was put to task over how she would handle contentious sections of the Constitution such as the death penalty, abortion and same sex relationships, if she got the job.

She told the committee that she would rule to abolish the death penalty because it infringed the right to life but did not foresee a situation where future Parliaments would pass a Bill allowing abortion under any circumstances.

"If I was sitting in the Supreme Court, I would look at it and probably rule in favour of furthering the right to life; of furthering principles that are internationally held on human rights conventions so I would abolish the death penalty," she said.

Even though Attorney General Githu Muigai, who had asked the question, put her to task over her contentious position Omamo stuck to her guns.

Muigai even reminded her how countries like the United States and India grappled with the topic that remained a thorn in the flesh in most judicial settings.

"This question has been in the Supreme Court for over 100 years and the US Supreme Court has refused to say that the death penalty is inhuman or degrading," he said.

"That is why they have gone from hanging, to chopping, to injecting and trying to change the method but not the end."

Omamo, who has a rich résumé in the private, public and diplomatic sectors, has worked and studied in several countries including France, Spain, Portugal, Serbia and the Vatican.

She also served in the taskforce that bore the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission as well as the Ndung'u land commission and has been a Permanent Representative in UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation).

She has however not completed her Master's Degree programme and her PhD.

"I have been a chairperson of many non-profits boards and I am fortunate to have been one of the founding members of the Federation of Women Lawyers," she told the panellists.

She further told the panel that she would open communication channels between the public and the Judiciary to make it more accessible.

Omamo also had to defend herself when she said that she didn't like the rigid interpretation of the law.

"I am not a textuarist. I look at a text but it does not necessarily dominate my full thinking because I want to contextualise it," she explained.

Muigai had earlier countered her non formal approach telling her that every lawyer was a textuarist.

"The law is about text. You cannot begin by denouncing the text; you cannot be a believer if you take the Bible or the Koran and say 'I am not a textuarist I want to engage with God through another medium'," he countered.

Issues around the radical judicial surgery of 2003, by Justice Aaron Ringera also came up.

Omamo said it did not reflect the reforms that had been sought noting that judges were denied an opportunity to respond to any adverse criticism against them.

Ringera released a report highlighting gross misconduct by certain judges; some decided to be investigated before resuming their duties while others opted to resign.

"The radical surgery was a brutal process and I don't feel that Judges were given a fair hearing. Some of them were condemned unheard and I don't think it represented the spirit that the Judiciary stands for," she said.

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