The immortals: Kenya’s first High Court Judge, Effie Owuor, was a woman of many firsts

Effie Owuor [Photo: Court]

She is Kenya’s first High Court Judge. That was 36 years ago.

 Lady Justice Effie Owuor also became the first female Judge of the Court of Appeal, the highest then before the Supreme Court became a reality in 2010.

And in a career spanning over three decades, she presided over criminal, family and succession cases in between heading the national task forces that reviewed the Children’s Act being a member of the Njonjo Commission of Inquiry, the first woman to sit in a Commission of Inquiry.

Ironically, the mother of six found herself in the middle of Luo customs regarding wife inheritance when her hubby died at a time when she was a commissioner with the Law Reform Commission that dusts up archaic laws besides heading the national task force to review laws and customs relating to women!

“Luos treat widows like dirty people who must be cleansed before remarrying. This is very degrading treatment of women,” said High Court Justice Effie Owuor, who refused to be inherited.

Wife inheritors are only “interested in plundering the wealth of the deceased husband,” she said in 1996.

Born in Kakamega, the alumnus of Butere and Alliance Girls

— where her schoolmates included educationist Mary Okello, scholar and first female Deputy VC Prof Farida Karani and the first female inspector of schools Elizabeth Masiga

— pursued law at the University of East Africa, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania.

 A stint at the State Law Office in 1967 was the beginning of her ascent, becoming the first female state counsel, first female prosecutor with resident magistrate and senior magistrate’s appointments following the dozen years to 1983 when retired President Moi appointed her the first female judge of the High Court.

 Only two other female judges, Justice Joyce Aluoch and Justice Mary Ang’awa, would be appointed High Court judges in a decade to 1993.

The one-time UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador retired during the radical surgery of the Kenyan judiciary after retired President Mwai Kibaki’s Narc government came to power in 2005

— the year the government nominated her to the bench of the International Criminal Court (ICC), but that small matter of the radical surgery where she had been mentioned in the Justice Ringera ‘List of Shame’ was the waterloo of what was then, a most illustrious legal career.

She retired in 2008 and now chairs the Sexual Offenses Task Force. Her slot at the ICC bench was taken by Lady Justice Joyce Aluoch.