Justice Isaac Lenaola loves reading. And to ensure this culture is maintained, he belongs to several book reading clubs. Not even his busy schedule with work at the Supreme Court or when serving as the Deputy Principal Judge at the Court of First Instance of East African Court of Justice or a judge at the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone since 2013 will distract this bookworm judge.
When not reading, Justice Lenaola enjoys jazz music and occasionally, watches the English Premier League where he supports Manchester United.
His rise has been meteoric. First being appointed a judge in early 30s, a feat only enjoyed by Justice (retired) Emmanuel O’Kubasu and High Court judge Mbogholi Msagha, to being the youngest judge to serve at the Supreme Court.
Justice Lenaola is also reputed to be the first member of the Samburu community to study law. And last week, the sociable judge was named the Jurist of the Year by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ).
The annual award, which has been on for the past 25 years, is meant to acknowledge and honour the contributions of an exceptional jurist “who has worked selflessly and courageously towards the promotion and protection of human rights, justice, rule of law and good governance in Kenya”.
The ICJ said Justice Lenaola is well known by the legal fraternity, locally, regionally and internationally for his dedication to upholding justice and the rule of law.
The father of two holds a Bachelors of Law Degree from the University of Nairobi and Diploma in Legal Practice from the Kenya School of Law.
Has served as a Commissioner at the Peoples Commission of Kenya, the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission and now the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). The Supreme Court judge joined the judiciary in 2003 and served in various stations before rising to the apex court in 2016.
While serving as the Presiding Judge of the Constitutional and Human Rights Division at the High Court in Milimani, the judge made numerous decisions touching on human rights and breaches by the government.
It was he who awarded second-liberation hero Kenneth Matiba close to Sh1 billion for the suffering he underwent in the hands of state officers, during the agitation for the return of multipartyism.
He also sat on a bench of three judges that declared the Constituency Development Fund law unconstitutional, hence invalid.
The judges reasoned that it undermined key national values and principles of governance including devolution of power, accountability and good governance.
He is always quoted in case management and clearing of backlog, something he achieved when he served at Milimani Court.
Justice Lenaola engages in community service initiatives and is a board member of the Nomadic Pastoralist People’s Organisation, Liverpool VCT Centre, and a trustee of the Wanjiru Kunyiha Asthma Trust, International Centre for Relief of Suffering and Starvation, Northern Kenya Education Trust and Northern Rangeland Trust.
“His work has had a transformative effect outside his calling as a jurist and his actions provide hope and inspiration to millions of Kenyans and judicial officers at large. ICJ Kenya wholeheartedly associates itself with these accolades,” Mr Njonjo Mue said during the announcement.
The award was introduced in 1993, principally to commemorate the International Human Rights Day that is celebrated every December 10.
The Supreme Court judge was born in late 1967 in Maralal, Samburu County and his passion for law began at an early age. He joined Alliance High School for his O-Levels and A-levels from 1981 to 1986.
And between 1999 and 2001, he served as a Commissioner both at the Peoples Commission of Kenya and at the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission (CKRC).
As a commissioner at the CKRC, he played an integral role in the drafting the initial and the second constitution — popularly known as the Bomas Draft.
He was awarded the Law Society of Kenya award for distinguished service in the Administration of Justice (2008), the East African Law Society honorary membership award for exemplary service and the development of jurisprudence in Kenya and the East African Region (2015) as well as distinguished service awards in the service of the International Association of Refugee and Migration Judges (2014 and 2018).
The Judge is also a recipient of the Moran of the Burning Spear from the President for distinguished service in the administration of justice in Kenya and the East African Region.