Ouko picked for top court job just four hours after interview

Thursday, May 6th, 2021 00:00 | By
Justice William Ouko when he appeared before the JSC to be interviewed for the position of judge of the Supreme Court, yesterday. Photo/PD/JOHN OCHIENG

Court of Appeal President William Ouko is the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) nominee for the vacant position of Supreme Court judge.

Justice Ouko beat six candidates to replace Justice Jackton Ojwang who retired in February last year in a decision the JSC panel which interviewed the candidates termed “unanimous”.

The candidates included Justices Said Chitembwe, Njagi Marete, Nduma Nderi and Joseph Sergon.

Others were Dr Nyaberi Justry Patrick Lumumba and lawyer Alice Jepkoech Yano.

Ouko’s nomination came barely hours after he had appeared before the JSC panel for the interview, alongside High Court judge Joseph Sergon and lawyer Yano.

Name submitted to President

JSC, in a statement read by the commission’s vice-chair Olive Mugenda, said it had already submitted his name to the President for appointment.

“After deliberation and careful consideration of the performance of the various candidates who were interviewed for the position of Judge of Supreme court, the commission has recommended for appointment Justice William Ouko Okello as Judge of Supreme Court of Kenya and has submitted his name to the President for appointment,” said Prof Mugenda.

JSC said all candidates shared bold, creative and exciting ideas for continuing the ongoing transformation of the Judiciary and the commission learnt a great deal from their many years of experience and their areas of specialisation but there was only one position.

“We congratulate Justice William Ouko, and we wish him well. To the other candidates, the commission has had the privilege to know you better and appreciate your hard work in the capacities in which you are serving the nation,” she said.

Regional balance, seniority

Sources within JSC, who sought anonymity, confided in People Daily that regional balance and seniority in the legal profession played a big part in Justice Ouko’s nomination.

“The fact that he hails from Nyanza region where the retired Justice (Jackton) Ojwang came from played a significant role in his choice, not forgetting the fact that as the President of the Court of Appeal, he is the most senior judge in the country outside the Supreme Court,” said the source.

But prominent lawyer Paul Mwangi disagreed, arguing that Justice Ouko simply stood head and shoulders above all the contestants for the position.

“He was clearly the best candidate whichever way one looks at it. He was the most experienced of all the applicants for the position besides being the senior most judge on the list (of interviewees). On this one, the JSC had an easy pick,” he said.

Law Society of Kenya President Nelson Havi, who has been critical of Justice Martha Koome’s nomination for the position of Chief Justice, declined to comment on Ouko’s nomination. “No comment,” he told People Daily when contacted.

Justice Ouko has been the Court of appeal President from March 9, 2018 after he was elected by his colleagues to replace Justice Paul Kihara Kariuki, whose term had come to an end and was subsequently appointed Attorney General.

Rising through the ranks

Born in 1961, Justice Ouko has risen through the ranks in the Judiciary having started off as a District Magistrate II in 1987.

He became Deputy Registrar, Senior Deputy Registrar and Principal Deputy Registrar from 1990 to 1997 and later became Chief Court Administrator in 1997.

He was later promoted to High Court Registrar in 2002. Justice Ouko was appointed Judge of the High Court in 2004 and in 2012 he was elevated to judge of the Court of Appeal.

The nominee holds a Master of Arts degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice, Bachelor of Laws degree (LLB) from the University of Nairobi and a Diploma in Legal Practice from the Kenya School of Law.

Ouko, who failed to secure the Chief Justice position, told the commissioners he does not have a problem supporting CJ nominee Koome. 

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