Martha Koome Profile: Fida Activist Set to Become Chief Justice

Court of Appeal judge Martha Koome appearing before the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) on Wednesday, April 14
Chief Justice Martha Koome appearing before the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) on Wednesday, April 14

Courts of Appeal Judge Martha Koome is on the cusp of making history as the country's first ever female Chief Justice.

Raised from a humble village in Miriiga Mieru in Meru county, the respected judge has beaten stereotypes throughout her career to rank among the top legal minds in the country.

During her vetting, the no-nonsense judge was grilled for her 2017 ruling that she made at night without the approval of the then Chief Justice David Maraga.

On October 25, 2017, High Court Judge George Odunga nullified the IEBC's appointment of returning officers for the repeat presidential election that was scheduled for the next day. The ruling was described as portending a constitutional crisis given that there were strict timelines for the repeat presidential election. 

However, the Court of Appeal, later on, quashed Odunga's ruling in a sitting that was held at night and without the approval of Maraga.

Koome was the presiding judge at the Court of Appeal and the ruling, alongside two of her colleagues, helped save the October 26 repeat election. 

Court of Appeal judge Martha Koome
Court of Appeal judge Martha Koome

When she was put to task to explain her decision during her vetting for the Chief Justice job, Koome explained that she had received a green light from her then-boss, the current Attorney General Paul Kihara.

"AG Kihara was then the President of the court and I was in Mombasa then and the court was a circuit court. That week we were all in Nairobi.

"The day before the election was a public holiday and I was called by the registrar and told that the President had said the matter should be heard as urgent. We should not lose sight of the determination of the election taking place the next day," she explained.

Her rise to the top, as evidenced under the circumstances of her 2017 ruling, has not been easy.

Koome graduated with law degree at the University of Nairobi before proceeding to the Kenya School of Law the following year.

After graduating, she created her own law firm in 1988 which was later ranked among the most successful women law firms in the country.

She later joined the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) and was once elected as its chairperson. In her capacity, she led civil rights organisations in securing women's participation in the constitutional review process.

The lady justice was elevated to be the Judge of the High Court in 2003 and has previously described her courtroom among the most friendly in the country.

In 2020, Koome admitted to Business Daily that she had a bias for children because they have no voice.

“Children have no voice, so I choose to speak for them because I recognise they are our bridge to the future and unless we nurture them, our future will be precarious.

“I recognise that children are vulnerable due to their age. I also recognise when they are in conflict with the law or they are victims of offences, it is because of the failure of a system. The society, family or community have failed them. That makes children victims," she explained.

She has also made history in the past after she chose to be interviewed in public in 2012. She was the first judge to make that gesture.

In October 2020, Koome received a Runner-up Award as UN Kenya Person of The Year 2020. Lady Justice Koome was recognized for her advocacy for the rights of children in conflict with the law as well as child victims.

In her acceptance speech, Lady Justice Koome said that she was grateful that it was not only the ordinary mwanachi on the streets who had noticed her work for children but also the UN had noticed that she spoke and worked for children.

“In accepting this nomination, I do so to celebrate and affirm that our children are indeed a gift from God, our bridge to the future and we owe them a duty of care. All of us stand in a position of local parents - be it a child in the streets, in a remand home, in schools and everywhere if a child is not in a good place, it is because of the failure of a system in the society.  This is the message I spread that our “children our collective responsibility”. Said Justice Koome.

She also holds a Master of Laws from the University of London she obtained in 2010.

Lady Justice Martha Koome while she delivered judgments and rulings of the Court of Appeal via Skype on April 24, 2020.
Lady Justice Martha Koome while she delivered judgments and rulings of the Court of Appeal via Skype on April 24, 2020.