The stud-sporting Chief Justice Dr Willy Mutunga took a bow from the Judiciary last week, and will be most remembered as ‘the people’s Chief Justice’ who ‘devolved the Judiciary’ to Kenyan and even connected with the youth through Sheng, as was obvious in his swan song tweet: “Thanks tweeps kwa jumbe zenu za hbd na za ku retire na sio ku expire, wacha Chief Jajiko aji prepare kuelekea Kotiko.”
The CJ who dispensed with creature comforts will have his admirers and haters, as were others before him. Here goes:
Chief Justice Kenneth O’Connor, the fifth CJ in 1954, is best remembered for sentencing freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi to death at the height of the Mau Mau insurgency in 1957!
Sir James Ainley, the seventh CJ, was Kenya’s first after independence in 1963, and is remembered for handling Kenya’s first political assassination when Pio Gama Pinto was killed in Parklands Nairobi in 1964. Ainley handed Kisilu Mutua a death sentence, later commuted to life. Kisilu was released 35 years later after investigative journalist Kamau Ngotho exposed how Kisilu was fixed in a high-voltage cover up.
Arthur Dennis Farrel could have been the ninth CJ, but was sacked as acting CJ on the same day in 1968 he reduced to six months, freedom hero Bildad Kaggia’s one year sentence on appeal after being found guilty of holding a political meeting minus a license!
The Oxford-educated Kitili Mwendwa was Kenya’s youngest— and first African — Chief Justice at 39. Kitili, who had ‘Office of the Most Learned Permanent Secretary’ on his door at the Ministry of Home Affairs, resigned as CJ after accusations of being party to a military plot to overthrow President Kenyatta I in 1971. The owner of Quick Bus Service and lover of vintage cars gassed at high speeds died in a road accident in September 1985. From Kitili, it took another 30 years before an African was appointed CJ!
Sir James Wicks, Kitili’s successor, was the longest serving at 11 years to 1982. Did you know the recent judicial spat in the Supreme Court over retirement age, began with Sir Wicks? Besides the late Minister Paul Ngei, Sir Wicks nicknamed ‘Njonjo Boy’ (after AG Charles Njonjo) is the only other Kenyan for whom the Constitution was personally changed - three times! When Sir Wicks reached 68, the law was changed and retirement age pegged at 70 then 72 and finally 74!
Wicks appointed his stepson, Allan Hancox, as High Court Judge. Hancox served as Kenya’s 15th CJ, and like his stepdad, played to the political gallery from 1989 to 1993.
The soft spoken Sir Alfred Simpson, the 12th CJ was a tight wad, best remembered for introducing private criminal prosecution for Kenyans, besides annoying colleagues via scrutinising work ticket for judges’ cars to skirt misuse of funds!
CB Madan, despite serving for only a year to 1986, is said to have been the best judge, and the best ever Chief Justice. Besides brilliant judgments in poetic prose, the 13th CJ weeded out corruption and kept the Executive on its lane.
Cecil Miller, the 14th CJ, interfered with cases in which the State had an interest, and when the government removed the tenure of office for judges and the CJ, Miller played ball!
The Spartan Abdul Majid Cocker, the only CJ to have ever published his memoirs, Doings, Non-doings and Mis-doings of Kenyan Chief Justices, drove his Peugeot 504 saloon car to his South C home, having dispensed with the official residence of the CJ plus security detail outside office hours!
Zacchaeus Chesoni, the most debt-ridden CJ, saw corruption and the Judiciary become bedfellows, while Bernard Chunga, a career cop, was the least qualified CJ, but the feared and no-nonsense administrator introduced special divisions of courts besides resuming written law reports. He resigned rather than face a tribunal to investigate him in 2003.
Evans Gicheru’s incorruptible tenure was punctuated by the ‘radical surgery’ of the Judiciary before Mutunga took over. He will be infamously remembered for swearing in President Kibaki at night following the disputed 2007 presidential poll.