18 August 2017

Kenya: All Eyes on CJ David Maraga as Raila Odinga Files Petition

Two weeks after he was sworn in in October last year, Chief Justice David Maraga met opposition chief Raila Odinga at the Supreme Court for a one-and-a-half-hour meeting.

It was a way of the new president of the Supreme Court reaching out to all political actors, the Mr Odinga meeting coming just a few days after he met President Uhuru Kenyatta.

READY

Accompanied by his co-principals Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetang'ula, Mr Odinga reportedly poured his heart out to Mr Justice Maraga about his misgivings of the court, and why he stood the biggest chance to restore that confidence.

And at the heart of that test, CJ Maraga later said, was a potential presidential elections petition, on which the Supreme Court has the exclusive jurisdiction and whose decision is final.

"I want to assure the country that the Judiciary is prepared to handle any election petitions that may arise next year," Mr Justice Maraga told Mr Odinga and his colleagues at the steps of the iconic building that houses Kenya's highest court.

Judge Maraga would continually repeat his assertion that the court was ready to handle such a petition since then, and as late as a week to the high-stakes August 8 elections, whose results Mr Odinga has disputed and is expected to lodge a case today.

7 JUDGES

While the Supreme Court decision, which must be delivered on September 1, will be determined by seven judges of the court, all eyes will be on Justice Maraga.

This is because of his role as president of the court and presiding judge, and the fact that it is his biggest case yet.

Also, Judge Maraga will be the tie breaker should the other six judges tie in their votes.

And since the court was formed primarily for such a petition, it will be baptism by fire for the 66-year-old former Kisumu Court of Appeal presiding judge.

The court will, however, have the benefit of judges Mohamed Ibrahim, Prof Jackton Ojwang', Dr Smokin Wanjala and Lady Justice Njoki Ndung'u who arbitrated a similar petition in 2013.

CHURCH

Those who took the oath of office with the CJ are his deputy Lady Justice Philomena Mwilu, and Justice Isaac Lenaola.

A furiously independent-minded judge, Justice Maraga is a staunch Seventh Day Adventist church elder who has in the recent months stamped the authority of the Judiciary against attacks by politicians.

So strong is his faith that during the interviews for the job in which he beat 14 other contestants, Justice Maraga said he could not compromise his going to church on Saturday for work.

"It would be very difficult for me to sit on a Saturday to hear a case," he told the Judicial Service Commission.

THE PAST

"I would rather talk with my colleagues in the court to accommodate me and exempt me from sitting if the hearing extends to a Saturday."

Given the 14-day window to hear and determine a presidential petition includes the weekends, it remains to be seen how the soft-spoken judge will navigate the waters in the high-stakes case.

The father of three also served as a judge of the High Court in Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru and Nairobi.

Before joining the bench, Mr Maraga practised as an advocate in Nakuru.

As the presiding judge in Nakuru, Maraga handled the murder trial of a former Eldoret traffic policeman- Andrew Moache, who had been charged with double murder of Ainamoi MP David Kimutai Too and his companion Eunice Chepkwony.

ELECTIONS

Judge Maraga found the officer guilty of manslaughter and sentenced him to 10 years in prison, sparking protests.

The two were shot dead at West Indies Estate in Eldoret on January 31, 2008.

He is also chaired the judiciary's committee on election preparedness.

The committee was tasked with finding pitfalls from previous election petition hearings and it made wide recommendations on how to hear the petitions efficiently.

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