The nomination of Justice Martha Koome for the position of Chief Justice marks yet another milestone in the evolution of the Judiciary. First, it institutionalises the constitutional provision of competitive recruitment of top judicial officers, a move intended to insulate the institution from extraneous influences.
She becomes the third CJ to go through an open and transparent recruitment since the enactment of the current Constitution. Justice Willy Mutunga was first and followed by David Maraga, who retired early this year.
Second, should Justice Koome be appointed, she will go down the annals of history as the first woman to head the Judiciary. This is no mean achievement and a major boost in the quest for gender equality.
At present, the highest ranking female judicial officer is Philemona Mwilu, the Deputy Chief Justice. Justice Koome will have to be vetted by the National Assembly before being appointed by President Kenyatta. Barring any extreme situation, she's set to take up this critical role at a time when the Judiciary is on the spot for various reasons.
First, it's grappling with reputational crisis. It has strained relationships with the other two arms of government -- Executive and Legislative -- which has undermined its operations. President Kenyatta has refused to appoint some 41 judges who had been recommended by the Judicial Service Commission. Parliament has consistently voted lower budgetary allocations to the Judiciary, rendering it unable to deliver services.
Although the three arms of government are independent, they work collaboratively. To the extent they cannot co-exist, governance suffers.
Second, the Judiciary is grappling with an endemic backlog of cases that undermine the administration of justice and which therefore, requires quick interventions.
Previous holders of the office made commitments to deal with that challenge but with minimal success. Third, the Judiciary has been slow in making structural and technological transformation.
Justice Koome has a gargantuan task ahead and must be ready to hit the ground running.