Chief Justice (CJ) David Maraga (pictured) proceeds on terminal leave this week pending his retirement on January 12, next year. When he took office in 2016, Maraga found a strong foundation of judicial independence, transformation and accountability laid by his predecessor Willy Mutunga.
Mutunga took over the Judiciary in the post-2010 Constitution period, a time when it was in a shambles, and lacked public confidence and motivation to dispense justice. His brief was to clean and free the Judiciary from years of incompetence.
Maraga inherited a divided Supreme Court. One side supported Mutunga while the other supported his deputy, Kalpana Rawal, who at the time was battling to stop her retirement. At the launch of his blueprint in 2017, the CJ pledged to reduce case backlogs as well as clear all cases that had been in court for more than five years.
True to his word, Maraga reduced the case backlog from over 300,000 in 2016 to 35,359 by June 2020. From a case clearance rate of 42 per cent in 2016, the rate has increased to 87 per cent under his watch.
He will be remembered most for his 2017 landmark ruling in the presidential election petition filed by the National Super Alliance. The Supreme Court, under Maraga, nullified President Uhuru Kenyatta’s win, making Kenya the first country in Africa and the third after Ukraine, Maldives and Austria to annul a presidential election.
Maraga made the digitisation of court records a reality by moving the courts to the digital platform. As CJ, he did not shy away from taking on either Parliament or the Executive on matters of law. His advisory to the president to dissolve Parliament for failing to enact legislation on the two-thirds gender principle was an act of courage that baffled many.
His many standoffs with the Executive were not unexpected, especially because he believed he was being held to ransom by the State to settle scores. Maraga’s tenure, however, was not all smooth sailing. In his last State of the Judiciary annual report, Maraga said he may not have been perfect, but the Judiciary has performed better under him.
He could not completely weed out rogue judges and magistrates who are frustrating justice delivery and bringing disrepute to the Judiciary through corruption and misconduct. By his own admission, Maraga said he has not achieved everything he set out to, but blamed the Executive for budgetary cuts that tied him down.
With the Executive and Legislature seemingly using the budget and hiring of judges to frustrate the Judiciary, his successor has a duty to reassert the Judiciary’s independence and continue with Maraga’s reforms. S/he should take the Judiciary as step or two forward like Mutunga and Maraga.