The curtains came down on Chief Justice David Maraga’s tenure on January 11th 2021 who leaves a legacy of being one of the most upstanding state officers. A quick Google search on his famous quotes and one comes to mind. “The greatness of any nation lies in its fidelity to the constitution and adherence to the rule of law and above all respect to God.”
This was said just moments before the Supreme Court ruled that the August 2017 presidential elections be nullified owing to irregularities by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). At the time, Kenya became the fourth country in the world nullify a presidential election, a move that many thought was unlikely. The ruling by the Supreme Court that nullified the re-election of an incumbent was not only rare but spoke volumes to the firm and unshaken courage of the 15th Chief Justice of independent Kenya.
The ruling by the Supreme Court would then set the stage for verbal attacks on Justice Maraga and the judiciary from offices as high as the president’s at the time. Not only did he have to endure this but he also had to fight budget cuts on the judiciary that threatened to cripple some of the services and make it impossible to address the hundreds of thousands of cases that were piling up. One may recall that in 2018 the judiciary had requested Sh 31 billion for their financial year only to be allotted Sh 17.3 billion that was further reduced to Sh 14.5 billion by the National Assembly.
“Budget cuts have been a consistent phenomenon and not an accident or an isolated incident. Some of the incidents that we encounter are deliberate attempts to undermine the Judiciary. On many occasions, the Judiciary has not been given treatment that is commensurate to other organs of government,” read part of a statement he issued on November 4th 2019. This was after he had unsuccessfully raised his budgetary concerns with the national treasury. In his wisdom, the former CJ decided to take their budgetary proposal to Parliament, and not the Treasury, so that when they have no funds to operate, the Kenyan people will know who to ask – their representatives.
Such statements cemented Maraga as a courageous leader who remained grounded by his values, mostly drawn from his faith, and his adherence to the law. It is in observing the rule of law that he also gave an advisory to the President to dissolve Parliament for failing to implement the two-thirds gender rule. As expected, this elicited a lot of reactions both in support and opposition of the advisory. While the matter remains unsettled in court following petitions by interested parties such as Parliament, it attests to the boldness of the former President of the Supreme Court.
Despite these challenges, Maraga went to on to unveil the judiciary e-filing system in June 2020 that was hailed by the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Law Society of Kenya as a milestone that would curtail corruption cases, enhance transparency and accountability in the delivery of justice. The timing of this coincided with the global Covid-19 pandemic that warranted swift adjustments by the judiciary to hold virtual hearings in adherence to the Ministry of Health preventive protocols.
It is also in 2020 that he launched the Alternative Justice System (AJS) Policy which he said aims at enhancing access to justice and supporting expeditious delivery of justice to citizens. By the time he was going into retirement, Maraga noted that only seven counties were without High Courts and the judiciary was working to ensure that the same is achieved. He’s also lauded for fostering the growth and capacity of the judiciary that has seen a significant reduction of case backlog.
As Maraga bows out let us all remember his call to us Kenyans to defend the judiciary. That demands that we ensure that our representatives do what is right by the judiciary who will then be able to dispense justice without bias based on one’s tribe, race or connections but with fairness and equality.