Kenya: Court Declines to Stop Interviews for Chief Justice

Nairob I — The High Court has declined to stop the interviews for the recruitment of a new Justice that kicked off Monday.

Two petitioners had filed a suit seeking to stop the interviews, arguing that the election of Professor Olive Mugenda as the interim vice chairperson was unlawful.

They also argued that the move will relegate the position of the acting Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu into and an ordinary member in the JSC.

But vacation judge Justice Anthony Murima said he cannot stop the interviews and instead directed that the petition filed by Tolphin Nafula be forwarded to the acting Chief Justice to appoint a bench to hear the application.

The judge said issues raised by the petitioners can be properly addressed by a bench of three or five judges.

The search for Kenya's new Chief Justice to replace David Maraga who retired in January 2021 officially kicked off Monday.

A nine member committee of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) chaired by Commissioner Olive Mugenda conducted the hearings that will see ten candidates interviewed for the position of Chief Justice and nine others for the position of Supreme Court Judge.

Maraga, whose tenure in office had been characterized by persistent feuds with the Executive after he annulled President Uhuru Kenyatta's presidential victory in 2017, exited office on attaining the mandatory retirement age of 70.

High Court Judge Said Chitembwe who was the first candidate to be interviewed Monday defended his candidature saying he had what it takes to head the Judiciary.

"The Judiciary needs somebody who understands it, somebody who is energetic, resourceful and somebody who can work with those ones who are within. You appreciate the energies and competences of your colleagues and you become the leader so that you enhance the institution," he told the Commission.

Justice Chitembwe, 54, said he will build on the legacies left by his predecessors under the Constitution (2010); Justices Maraga and Willy Mutunga.

"I will continue with what my predecessors started but coming from within, I know where we have done it well, I know where there are weaknesses and I know where we can do better and improve the institution," he said.

Banking on his 29 years in the legal profession and being a member of the Judiciary for 12 years, Justice Chitembwe noted that he will focus more on ensuring that Kenyans get justice expeditiously, more courts are constructed, and more importantly work towards reducing the backlog of cases at the courts.

"I will not impose myself to my colleagues to get the job done but I will be constantly engaging with them to ensure we achieve results," he said.

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