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Career lessons from recent recruitment of Chief Justice

Tuesday May 04 2021

Martha Koome

Justice Martha Koome during her interview for the position of Chief Justice on April 14, 2021. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG

Beyond its primary objective of competitively selecting a Chief Justice for the Republic of Kenya, the recent interviews by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) were punctuated with great lessons for career growth to young professionals.

The publicly conducted interviews have afforded us an opportunity to glean from the career lives of top judges, distinguished legal academics and practitioners of law.

In terms of academic qualifications and professional experience, all the 10 candidates that were shortlisted and interviewed met the constitutional threshold under Article 166 of the Constitution. 

However, beyond the glittering CVs capturing the academic qualifications and experience of the candidates, a keen follower of the interviews may have noticed that a combination of soft skills, individual discipline and other traits remain crucial for the success or failure in our careers.

Having watched the interviews, I picked up a number of lessons that can be crucial for career growth from some of the applicants interviewed and even the commissioners of the JSC.

Continuous reading

The grades and qualifications we obtain in schools and colleges largely enable us to get entry level jobs in the private sectors, government and other organisations but they are not enough for career success.

Professionals like lawyers, doctors, engineers, teachers among others must constantly keep reading and training so as to be updated in their respective fields.

Speaking as a lawyer, litigation lawyers (lawyers who handle court work) are known to persuade judges by relying on past decisions from the courts of higher or concurrent jurisdictions. 

A number of the past judgments of the higher courts interpret and clarify the grey areas of the law. There are also new legislations and amendments which keep coming from the Parliament and County Assemblies. 

Lawyers and judicial officers are expected to constantly bring themselves to speed with these developments. 

From the interviews, one could tell the candidates who are familiar with the recent developments and interoperations of the law. This particularly played out well during the questioning session by Commissioner David Majanja who is also a judge of the High Court. 

The questions were on a number of recent landmark decisions of the Supreme Court which the applicants were expected to have followed.


Beyond earning salaries, allowances and professional fees from their work, lawyers and judges are presented with an opportunity to handle cases whose resolution impact greatly on the country and individual lives of litigants.

We heard some of the applicants being questioned on cases they handled which affected the fundamental rights and freedoms of some Kenyans, property disputes, university student disciplines, and elections, international boundary disputes, and employment and labour disputes, sexual offences among others.

Whereas the candidates were grilled to understand their judicial philosophy, competence and capacity, some of the past assignments exemplifying these could have been tainted with instances of questionable integrity issues.

Where the candidate executed his or her professional duty diligently, the answers given were convincing even to the ordinary citizen following the proceedings. Yet again, where genuine mistakes were made in those past professional assignments, one could also tell from the answers given. 

For the avoidance of doubt, judges can make mistakes. But that is why the courts have an appellate structure so that mistakes from the lowers courts can be subjected to appellate courts and possibly corrected.

Lawyers on the other hand are always said to be practicing-they can make genuine mistakes in executing their professional assignments. Numerous complaints from professional bodies and members of the public about past assignments alleged to have been handled inappropriately can also hinder career growth.

From the interviews, we learn that professional duties executed with ulterior motives, tainted with integrity questions so as to achieve selfish or to arrive at politically expedient solutions may, later on, come to haunt a professional.

Peer review

The views and opinions of your professional colleagues about your technical abilities, soft skills and integrity will always count in career progression. 

You may have followed individual analysis in the mainstream and social media ahead of the interviews. Some of the candidates were said to be front runners considering that they are “highly regarded” practitioners, academics and judicial officers.

Looking at the Commission itself, one will notice that a number of the commissioners have been afforded the distinguished honour to sit in the JSC because of the confidence that their professional colleagues have in them.

Commissioners Mohammed Warsame, David Majanja and Evelyne Olwande are judicial officers elected by their peers to sit in the Commission. Commissioner Macharia Njeru is an elected representative of the Law Society of Kenya.

Views from your peers constitute an important consideration in making a decision of whether or not to make certain career moves. It is highly likely that if they were minded to seek such views, some of the applicants would not have tendered their applications despite being qualified.

Regulatory compliance

Being in good standing within your professional association(s), evidence of Credit Reference Bureau (CRB) clearance and repaying debts including Helb loan, tax compliance and wealth declarations are now mandatory requirements before entry into the public service. 

Indeed under the Public Officers and Ethics Act, 2003 serving public officers are obligated to submit to file declarations of their income, assets and liabilities, and those of their spouse(s) and dependent children under the age of 18 years. The declaration of spouses and children’s income is crucial because ill-gotten wealth can be hidden through accounts of these people.

During the interviews, it was worth noting that a number of the applicants if not all had problems answering the questions around wealth declaration of their spouses and children and tax compliance.

It would appear that issues associated with tax compliance and wealth declaration could possibly have informed a good number of other qualified candidates not to apply for this position.

Wanga is a Partner, Waweru Gatonye Advocates

2021-05-03 21:00:00

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