The CJ issued a statement a few hours after she had attended the swearing-in of 34 judges at State House, Nairobi.
Koome argued that she did take part in the selection of the 34 judges and urged Uhuru to appoint the six who he left out and accused of having integrity issues. This included Judges Weldon Korir, Aggrey Muchelule, Evans Kiago, Judith Omange, George Odunga and Joel Ngugi – with the last two among the five judges who nullified the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).
“Many people have questioned my role in this process since I assumed office only two weeks ago. I wish to state that I had no part to play in this Constitutional process which was undertaken almost two years ago (2019 when former CJ David Maraga presented 41 judges to Uhuru). Upon forwarding the names to H.E the President, the Chief Justice and the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) became functus officio (ceased to have any role).
“We should find a lasting solution so that moving forward, this kind of delay and misunderstanding will be a thing of the past. Respect for the rule of law and the independence of the Judiciary is guaranteed under the Constitution. No person or authority is allowed to direct the JSC or the Judiciary in the execution of their mandate,” Koome warned that she would not be a pushover.
The CJ further noted that Uhuru had twice delayed the appointment of judges, writing that in 2014, he appointed 11 out of 14 justices recommended to him.
Koome faced criticism from a number of lawyers and pro-Constitution groups which accused him of maintaining silence and watching as President Uhuru broke the law. They argued that his predecessor, Maraga, rejected the appointment of 34 judges several times and pushed for all 41 or none.
Her critics had also accused her of cherry-picking the judges and declining to push Uhuru to reveal the evidence he had against the six omitted judges.
“There is a perception among lawyers that she is compromising part of the independence of the Judiciary. This is a difficult matter that she needs to make a choice on. On one side there is interest in the administration of justice and on the other is a President who is stubborn. What do you do?” Lawyer Charles Kanjama opined that Koome was at a crossroad.
“Chief Justice Martha Koome has weakened the Judiciary by conceding to the rejection by Uhuru Kenyatta of four judges and two magistrates. No congratulations from me,” Law Society of Kenya President Nelson Havi, however, did not reserve any sympathy for Koome.
While being vetted by the JSC, Koome stated that she would find a way to ensure Uhuru respects the law and appoints 41 judges. After her swearing-in ceremony, she promised to reduce the backlog and defend the constitution.
During the swearing of 34 judges, Uhuru declined to point out reasons as to why he rejected the six judges. He further asked the 34 to discharge their duties with diligence.
“I ask you to serve the people of Kenya with unfailing integrity and commitment, with utmost fidelity to the oath that you have subscribed to. For just like you today, I too, took an oath to both the letter and the spirit of the law; and it is not open to me to turn a blind eye to the report of our state organs.
“As long as I serve as President, I will choose the right over the convenient; I will choose the hard over the easier choice. I am not doing this for myself, but for the People of Kenya, and for posterity,” Uhuru stated.
The Judiciary and Executive relationship will further be tested when the Court of Appeal listens to the BBI appeal on June 29 and makes a ruling thereafter. The High Court declared the BBI as null and void.