President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed Martha Koome as the Chief Judge of Kenya from the Court of Appeal. The appointment of Justice Martha Koome is remarkable as she is the first female to ascend to the lofty height of being Chief Justice of Kenya. She came top over nine other candidates, including some of Kenya’s most prominent lawyers and academics. The candidates were interviewed live on TV by the Judicial Service Commission.
Koome succeeds David Maraga who also made history during his reign as Chief Justice of Kenya when the Supreme Court annulled Uhuru Kenyatta’s election in view of the appeal challenging the conduct of elections on grounds of illegalities and irregularities.
It is also worthy of note that none of the sitting Supreme Court Justices applied for the position of Chief Justice, raising speculations that they were unwilling to face political pressure akin to the one Maraga received following the annulment of Kenyatta’s re-election. Maraga was reported to have stated that he received death threats in the wake of the annulment.
Remarkably, Koome is one of 18 children from a polygamous family who were predominantly subsistent farmers. She is the founder of Federation of Women Lawyers, an organization dedicated to campaigning and advocating for women’s rights, offering free legal aid to indigent women in Kenya.
She had a distinguished legal career with over 33 years in private legal practice and as a member of the judiciary.
The Federation of Women Lawyers she founded was instrumental in the drafting of the new constitution in 2010. The new constitution represented a new frontier in the fight against discrimination of women. It brought about landmark judicial decisions allowing children to derive their citizenship from maternal identity and limited the scope of conventional laws discriminating against women’s right to property.
Martha Koome has represented political detainees like the former Prime Minister, Raila Odinga, during the course of her legal career.
The new Chief Judge has repeatedly talked about her Christian faith and put forth opinions that were usually at odds with the church’s conservatism. For example, in 2019, she supported a ruling in Kenya in favour of legalization of the LGBTQIA+ identity.
Koome’s career has been laid with remarkable feats. With the growing number of backlog of cases, Koome and her fellow judges were lauded for establishing a framework that fostered expeditious hearing and conclusion of cases.
The Kenya judiciary has experienced an increased involvement of female judges since 2010, with 42% in the High Courts and 40% in superior Courts.