Kenya: My Vast Experience Will Save Judiciary, Justice Ouko Tells JSC

Court of Appeal Judge William Ouko has told the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) that his 33 years of legal practice -- mostly earned as an insider in the Judiciary -- would be key in transforming the institution if he is appointed Chief Justice.

Justice Ouko said the experience -- first earned as a district magistrate before becoming registrar, a chief court administrator and later a registrar of the High Court -- would come in handy in transforming the Judiciary and administering justice.

The judge, while appearing before the 10-member JSC that is interviewing candidates for the position of Chief Justice, was Wednesday questioned on his qualifications for the top Judiciary job, his past judgments and experiences as well as his vision for the institution.

"What prepares me to juggle all the duties of CJ is the background I have. For instance, as (the) registrar, I was able to bear all duties without any burdening me. My training and background prepare me to wear this hat and to wear it effectively," said Justice Ouko.

Open up courts

"The first one would be access in its very broad term; open up courts, making work efficient, delivery on time. Second is integrity, the strengthening of 'ombudsperson' office and then the issue of enhancing responsive leadership in the Judiciary," he added.

The judge, considered a Judiciary insider whose deep knowledge and understanding of the Judiciary has been cited by many as an advantage to his candidature, said he would hit the ground running on day one.

He added that his vision would be to build on the legacies of previous officeholders by reducing the backlog of cases, integrating the use of technology in the administration of justice and employing alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, among other issues.

"When CJ Mutunga took over, the backlog of cases was at one million. When CJ Maraga left, the backlog was at 600,000. Kenyans want expeditious determination of cases," said Justice Ouko.

Restore public confidence

"My vision will be the restoration of public confidence in the Judiciary. You must make work move, reduce the waiting period. I do not think we are working smart. My legacy is that of a satisfied litigant who comes to court and has justice served expeditiously."

He went on: "I will achieve this through case management by digitisation. The second will be to look at other ways of taking the heat from the court but still meeting the same objective of reducing case backlogs, through alternative justice systems."

The judge told the interviewing panel that one of the pressing matters he would prioritise is the appointment of the 41 judges, a stalemate that has crippled the operations of the Judiciary.

"When I started, we were 27, three judges away from the Constitutional threshold. But now we are 15, which means four judges dealing with over 200 appeals coming from the lower courts. There ought to be a way out. What I talk about is from my heart. And when you give me the opportunity I will come back to you," he said.

"As Chief Justice, I believe you have a channel with the Head of State and it will really be up to me to revive that channel if it does not exist."

The 60-year-old judge was admitted to the roll of advocates in 1987.

He worked briefly at Mbogholi Msagha and Company Advocates before joining the Judiciary as a district magistrate, a position he served in before rising through the ranks to the Deputy Registrar of the High Court, Judiciary's chief court administrator, registrar of the High Court, High Court judge and later a judge in the Court of Appeal.

Proposed changes

Justice Ouko said the biggest impediment in the transformation of the Judiciary had been the implementation of previously proposed changes, which he would prioritise.

"I do not think we have been focused on implementation. We have been focused in generating more work. The problems we have had in this country is backlog and delays and corruption. And the solutions have been proposed even in our strategic plan. And implementation is what the next CJ will be focused on," he said.

The judge has a Master of Arts degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice from Egerton University and a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Nairobi.

He was elected president of the Court of Appeal in 2018 to take over from Attorney-General Kihara Kariuki.

He is the eighth candidate to appear before the 10-member JSC panel that will also hire another Supreme Court judge to replace Justice Jackton Ojwang, who retired last year.

All 10 JSC commissioners -- Acting Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu (Supreme Court), Justice Mohamed Warsame (Court of Appeal), Justice David Majanja (High Court), Ms Evelyn Olwande (Chief Magistrate's court), Macharia Njeru (Law Society of Kenya), Ms Ann Amadi (Judiciary registrar), Mr Kihara Kariuki (Attorney-General), Patrick Gichohi (Public Service Commission), Mr Felix Koskei (public representative) and Prof Olive Mugenda (public representative) -- are presiding over the selection process.

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