Ngatia claims rigging in Martha Koome's nomination as next Chief Justice

Martha Koome

Justice Martha Koome during her interview for the position of Chief Justice on April 14, 2021. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG

Court of Appeal judge Martha Koome was on Tuesday nominated for the position of Chief Justice amid claims from top lawyer Fred Ngatia that he was rigged out in a selection where scores by individual candidates were not made public.

Ms Koome beat off competition from nine other candidates, including judges, prominent lawyers in private practice and law scholars, to be picked by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to become Kenya’s first female Chief Justice.

The JSC has forwarded her name to President Uhuru Kenyatta for appointment and insisted it will not reveal the scores for each candidate.

"Our duty was to select the best candidate and that's what we have done," Prof Olive Mugenda, who chaired the interviews, said on why the individual scores will not be made public.

The other candidates were Justice Said Juma Chitembwe, Prof Patricia Mbote, Justice Njagi Marete, Mr Philip Murgor, Justice Nduma Nderi, Justice William Ouko, Prof Moni Wekesa and Ms Alice Yano.

Mr Ngatia, who had been tipped as one of the frontrunners, disputed Justice Koome’s nomination, saying that the JSC manipulated his scores.

"Four commissioners from Mt Kenya reduced my scores yesterday afternoon after they were called by powerful people," Mr Ngatia told the Business Daily after the JSC announcement.

"Without that intervention, I was far ahead of all the other candidates," he added without giving details on the scores and venue of the meeting.

Mr Ngatia represented President Uhuru Kenyatta in the presidential election petitions at the Supreme Court and his close links with the Head of State featured during his interview for the chief justice position.

On Tuesday, Prof Mugenda also announced that interviews for a Supreme Court judge to replace Jackton Ojwang, who retired, will resume on May 3. She said all the candidates would be notified immediately of the dates when they would face the panel.

During her interviewing, Justice Koome said she would be banking on, among others, her experience as a Judiciary insider to transform the courts.

The Court of Appeal Judge, who boasts over 18 years experience in the Judiciary, indicated her priorities as reducing the backlog of cases by facilitating the appointment of additional judges and magistrates, operationalising the Judiciary Fund to promote its independence, promoting the use of technology as well as to building additional courts.

Court cases had threatened to derail the hiring of Kenya’s next Chief Justice, with the latest one filed by law scholar Makau Mutua hours before nomination Justice Koome was announced.

The Court of Appeal on Monday lifted earlier orders that had halted the search, paving the way for Justice Koome’s nomination.

If her appointed in approved, Justice Koome will head the Judiciary for the next 10 years, marking the first time that holders of the two most powerful positions in the Judiciary are women. The current deputy and acting Chief Justice is Philomena Mwilu.

Renowned for her passion for children and women’s rights, Justice Koome joined the High Court in 2003 and served in several stations among them Nakuru and Nairobi, before she was elevated to the Court of Appeal in 2011.