High Court Halts BBI Push, Justice Koome Appointed Kenya’s First Female Chief Justice
The revamped Kenyan judiciary has in recent years served significant rulings. Arguably the most momentous was the nullification of the 2017 presidential elections. The High Court has now declared The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) illegal. In addition, the High Court has nullified the 2018 appointment of 129 heads of state. It is another win for the judiciary as Justice Martha Koome takes charge. Justice Koome will be Kenya’s first female Chief Justice.
Building Bridges Initiative, Illegal
In a four-hour televised ruling, the High Court judges said President Uhuru Kenyatta violated the constitution. They accused the president and his nemesis turned ally, Raila Odinga of initiating a process which ought to have been started by ordinary citizens.
“A constitutional amendment can only be initiated by Parliament through a Parliamentary initiative under article 256 or through a Popular Initiative under Article 257 of the Constitution,” the bench ruled.
The High court added that Mr. Kenyatta had failed the leadership and integrity test. Moreover, the judges declared the BBI Constitutional Committee created by the president is unlawful. Consequently, the president risks being sued in his personal capacity for steering the illegal BBI movement.
In response, Orange Democratic Movement leader, Raila Odinga has raised 16 issues challenging the decision by the High Court. Mr. Raila said the judges denied the wishes of millions of Kenyans who want constitutional change. President Uhuru has also filed a notice of appeal against the ruling. The president argues that the judges failed to determine whether he should be sued in his personal capacity. According to the president, a civil case cannot be filed against a person performing the functions of the president.
The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) is a constitutional Amendment process unveiled after a truce between political rivals, Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga during the contentious 2017 election. The ‘handshake’ later spurred the Constitutional Amendment Bill of 2020 that received overwhelming support from legislators. The bill sailed through The National Assembly and The Senate this year. The stage was set for another national referendum only to be halted by the High Court ruling.
In a different ruling, a three-judge bench has declared the 2018 appointments to state corporations as unconstitutional. According to the High Court, the appointments made by President Kenyatta were illegal and violated Article 232 of the constitution. the judges cited lack of transparency and competitiveness as the basis for their decisions .
Kenya’s First Female Chief Justice
This month, President Uhuru Kenyatta appointed Justice Martha Koome to head the judiciary. Justice Koome becomes the 15th Chief Justice and the first female to ascend to that position in Kenya’s history. The newly sworn-in Chief Justice said she will ensure that no cases are in the courts for more than three years.
In her speech, she confirmed that courts still have a backlog of cases. She also recognized the tremendous strides made in the judiciary since the adoption of the 2010 Constitution. “My predecessors made efforts to improve the judiciary and I will embrace the implementation of the case management system,” she explained.
“We know you will succeed. We are there to partner with you and to work with you as the Executive branch of Government,” President Kenyatta said. Mr. Kenyatta added he felt honored to swear in the first female Chief Justice of the Republic of Kenya.