Nairobi — Lady Justice Lydia Achode has taken over as the Principal Judge of the High Court becoming the first female judge to assume the office.
Lady Justice Achode was installed at a ceremony presided over by Chief Justice David Maraga at the Milimani Law Courts on Tuesday taking the reins from Justice Richard Mwongo who became the first occupant of the Office of the Principal Judge under the Constitution 2010.
While congratulating the new head of the High Court, Justice Maraga underscored the importance of the High Court as the superior court of the first instance having unlimited jurisdiction.
"The Principal Judge manages this complex organ and keeps his or her fingers on its pulse to ensure that it is accountable, efficient and administers justice expeditiously without fear or favour, and in accordance with the Constitution and the laws of the Republic," he said.
"Article 73(1)(a) and (b) of the Constitution reminds us all that as state officers, our responsibility is to promote public confidence in the integrity of the office and to serve the people rather exercise our power to rule them. That is all that is demanded of you," Justice Maraga added.
The new Principal Judge was elected by colleague judges on April 24 during a poll conducted by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) during which vote she garnered 43 out of 80 votes, beating her challengers Justices Mary Kasongo and Asenath Ongeri.
Under Article 165 (2) of the Constitution (2010), a Principal Judge is elected by the judges of the High Court from among themselves.
The Office of the Principal Judge was first created administratively in October 2009 when then Chief Justice Evans Gicheru appointed Justice Msagha Mbogholi as Principal Judge before it was incorporated in the Constitution.
According to the High Court Organization Act, the Principal Judge reports to the Chief Justice on matters administration and management of the High Court.
The Principal Judge also liaises with the Chief Justice in the Constitution of benches comprising of two or more judges to hear matters that require adjudication by multiple judges.
Lady Justice Achode takes over the leadership of the High Court at a time when the number of pending cases has been reported to stand at 119,777 according to the State of Judiciary and Administration of Justice Report (SOJAR) 2016-17 released in December last year.
According to SOJAR 2016-17, 16,888 out of the 119,777 pending cases at High Courts spread across the country were criminal cases (CR) with civil cases (CV) accounting for the majority of backlog - 102,889.
Comparatively, however, the High Court has in recent times recorded a reduction in backlog from 151,902 in 2014-15, to 127,958 in 2015-16, and 119,777 in 2016-17.
The High Court according to SOJAR 2016-17 accounted for 23 per cent of 533,350 pending cases at the time of the publication of the report.
The Magistrates Courts accounted for 69 per cent of pending cases (366,133) with the remaining eight per cent distributed to other courts which include the Supreme Court (73), Court of Appeal (3,387), Employment and Labour Relations Court (13,723), Environment and Land Court (27,242), and the Kadhi Courts (3,015).
With a case inflow of 20,553 in 2016-17, the High Court was able to clear 27,987 cases most of which dated back to 2015-16.
Magistrates Courts were the busiest courts in 2016-17 registering 300,655 cases (87 per cent of total case inflow) with the number of resolved cases during the period standing at 260,319.
A total of 344,180 fresh cases were filed in the entire Judiciary in 2016-17 out of which 258,982 were criminal cases while 85,198 were civil cases.