THE Judicial Service Commission is meeting in The Hague to decide on the next Chief Justice of Kenya.
According to sources that did not want to be named, all members of the JSC travelled to The Hague for the hearing of a maritime boundary case pitting Kenya against Somalia and will on the sidelines deliberate on the CJ issue.
They will announce the successful candidate soon after returning to the country on Thursday. This means Kenya will have a new CJ before the end of the week.
The JSC, which comprises judges Mohammed Warsame, Aggrey Muchelule, magistrate Emily Ominde, Prof Githu Muigai, Prof Margaret Kobia, Prof Tom Ojienda, Winnie Guchu, Mercy Ndeche and Kipng’etich Bett, finished the interviews for the position of CJ last Thursday.
Attorney General Muigai and Ojienda, an expert in the law of the sea, are involved in the Kenya versus Somalia case.
Those interviewed for the job of CJ are US-based law Professor Makau Mutua, advocate Nzamba Kitonga, carpenter Paul Kongai Udoto, Ambassador Daniel Wambura, Pastor Lucy Wanja, judges Alnashir Visram, Msagah Mbogholi, David Maraga, Smokin Wanjala, Roselyne Nambuye, Jacktone Ojwang and Aaron Ringera.
During the interviews the JSC asked questions seeking to find out the vision the applicants had for the Judiciary, their understanding of the challenges that face the institution, and how to take it to the next level by making it more efficient; what they stand for; their appreciation of international law; their networks within the country and outside; and ability to source funding for the Judiciary from donors.
There were also questions touching on the independence of the candidates, their integrity, temperament, people skills, whether they were good managers, whether they will inspire confidence among the judicial staff, and on their previous judgments (for the candidates who were already serving judges).
As the JSC retreats to find the person to succeed the first President and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court under the 2010 constitution, Willy Mutunga, it will have the tough task of finding someone with all, or the majority, of the above qualities.
The position of CJ fell vacant after Mutunga and his deputy, Kalpana Rawal, both left office in June.
The JSC is rushing to fill the positions, especially because the Supreme Court at present has no quorum. The court will also decide petitions in case of challenges to the outcome of the Presidential election next year.
According to the constitution, the Chief Justice is the chairman of the JSC and president of the Supreme Court. He does not exercise judicial power over other courts. Any administrative power he retains over the Court of Appeal and High Court is shared with their heads.
Following the interviews, three judges, namely Wanjala, Visram and Maraga, are tipped to be the frontrunners.
The three have the upper hand because of their experience in the Judiciary and their people skills, among other factors.
Justice Wanjala has the added advantage of being on the JSC as a representative of the Supreme Court and has knowledge about the workings of the JSC.
Once picked, the CJ is expected to chair the interviews for the Deputy CJ and other vacancies on the Supreme Court.
It is also understood senior government figures are comfortable with any of the three because they come from small communities outside of Mount Kenya and the Rift Valley. President Uhuru Kenyatta from Central and Deputy President William Ruto from Rift have been accused of mostly appointing people from the two regions to key positions.
Maraga is also favored politically, as he would be a plus to the Jubilee government, considering that he comes from Kisii. The Jubilee Party regime will be keen on having him appointed to endear itself to the Abagusii community.
Apart from impressive academic performance, integrity and experience, the JSC will also consider regional balance as it names the CJ.
The interviews were marked by fierce exchanges, light moments and deep academic arguments.
At one point, Mutua’s interview became a battle of professors as AG Muigai pressed the law scholar on his much-publicized remarks, published in a newspaper column under his own byline, that he would never recognize President Kenyatta’s 2013 election victory.
But the worst altercation occurred last Thursday, when Justice Ojwang bluntly told the JSC to give him a break when the line of questioning appeared to irritate him.