Martha Koome’s historic rise to the post of Chief Justice

Once President Uhuru Kenyatta accepts her nomination, Lady Justice Martha Koome will become the first woman to lead the Judiciary arm of the government.

Since independence, the post of Chief Justice in Kenya has been occupied by men.

The historic nomination of Lady Justice Koome to become the country’s Chief Justice comes just five years after she was beaten to the position by her predecessor, Chief Justice Emeritus David Maraga.

Born and raised in a polygamous family in Kithiu village, Meru County, Justice Koome received a unanimous nomination, beating nine other candidates, said the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) acting head, Prof Olive Mugenda, on Tuesday, April 27.

Until her nomination, Lady Justice Koome, 61, was working as a Court of Appeal Judge.

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With 33 years of experience in legal practice, Justice Koome came to the limelight in the profession while working as a human rights defender before being appointed as a High Court Judge in 2003.

In the High Court, Justice Koome served as the head of environment and land division in Nairobi. The mother of three also served as a resident judge in Nakuru and Kitale, and at the commercial and family divisions in Nairobi.

Previously, she build her career fiercely defending the rights of women and children. Justice Koome is an expert in family law and she takes a keen interest in children, a feat that earned her recognition where she was named the UN person of the year run-up in 2020.

Lady Justice Koome graduated from the University of Nairobi, School of Law, in 1986 and it was not until 24 years later that she attained a master’s degree in Public International Law from the University of London.

In 1988, after graduating from the Kenya School of Law, Martha Koome worked at Mathenge & Muchemi Advocates before she set out to open her law firm, Koome & Company Advocates, in 1993.

She was elected as council member of the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) where she served between 1993 and 1996.

During her term at the LSK, she took a leading role in pushing for constitutional and legal reforms that eventually led her to becoming a key cog in the country’s reform movement, seeing her become part of Kenya’s historic constitutional review.

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Her efforts, together with others, yielded the 2010 Constitution, which she will now be expected to defend and interpret from the apex court.

Justice Koome was elected chairperson of Federation of Kenya Women Lawyers (FIDA KENYA) and part of the team that aided in the drafting of several Bills to help address a range of issues touching on violence against women and children.

Asked about whether a woman can run the office of Chief Justice by the JSC during her interview, Justice Koome said that would be historic.

“Leadership is gender-neutral. It doesn’t require a man or a woman. It is skills that will deal with the challenges we face. You need managerial skills because you will be overseeing various things. As a lady, I appreciate that everybody brings something to the table,” she said on April 14.

The backlog of cases has been a hot button issue in the quest for justice in Kenya, and Justice Koome believes her plan can yield results.

“Back then, we were few but somehow we managed. Now, we are many, but cannot manage. What needs to happen is for every judge to have their own docket. We need a case management system,” she told the JSC panel.

We must discuss this issue of the appointment of 41 judges with the President, find out where the problem is and resolve it, she said when asked how she was going to unlock the current standoff between the Judiciary and the Executive on the delayed appointment of judges.

The mother of three has been a role model and a speaker in many forums mainly championing family values while sharing her own experiences of how to balance career growth, work and family.

No doubt, the present is female!

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