The chief justice of Kenya is a public office in the Republic of Kenya established under Article 161 of the country's Constitution as the head of the Judiciary of Kenya. Under Article 163, the chief justice also serves as the president of the Supreme Court of Kenya. The chief justice is assisted by the deputy chief justice, who also serves as the deputy president of the Supreme Court.[1]

The current chief justice is Lady Justice Martha Koome, the first woman to serve as chief justice in Kenya.[2]

Appointment and tenure of office

Before the enactment of the Constitution of Kenya 2010, the president appointed the chief justice without any interview process or parliamentary approval. The chief justice did not enjoy security of tenure, and could be dismissed at the pleasure of the president.

Under the new Constitution, the chief justice is formally appointed by the president but is selected by the Judicial Service Commission following a competitive process involving a vacancy announcement, shortlisting of applicants and interviews. In order to be appointed as the chief justice, a person must have at least fifteen years experience as a legal practitioner. At the end of the interviews, the Judicial Service Commission selects one individual whose name is forwarded to Parliament for vetting and approval. If Parliament gives the candidate the green light, he is then formally appointed by the president.

In an attempt to give the president more leeway in appointing the chief justice, the Jubilee Coalition, while in power, pushed through a legislative amendment which required the Judicial Service Commission to provide three qualified individuals from which the president would appoint one as the chief justice.[3] However, the constitutional court declared the amendment unconstitutional, and the new constitutional provision remains the only legal process of appointment of the chief justice.[4]

Similar to other judges in the judiciary, the chief justice serves until they reach 70 years, with an option for early retirement once they reach the age of 65. However, no matter their age, an individual may not serve for more than ten years as chief justice. As such, an individual who serves for ten years as chief justice must retire from the office of the chief justice even if they are not yet 70 but may opt to stay on the Supreme Court as an associate justice until they reach 70.

The chief justice may be removed from office if a Tribunal appointed to inquire into their conduct finds that they no longer legally fit for office.

In the event of a vacancy in the office of the chief justice, the deputy chief justice performs the role in an acting capacity until a new chief justice is appointed. Where the deputy chief justice position is also vacant, the senior-most associate justice of the Supreme Court will act as the president of the Supreme Court until a chief justice is named, and the next senior-most as the deputy president of the Supreme Court. An example of this occurred in 2016, when the senior associate justice Mohamed Ibrahim acted as the president of the Supreme Court following the early retirement of Chief Justice Willy Mutunga who turned 69 in June 2016, and the retirement of Deputy Chief Justice Kalpana Rawal who turned 70 in January 2016.[5]


The chief justice performs a wide range of judicial, administrative and ceremonial duties provided for under the Constitution and various statutes.

As the president and head of the Supreme Court of Kenya, the chief justice sits on the bench of the court and gives directions on which associate justices are to preside over cases. As the chairperson of the Judicial Service Commission, he/she has a lead role in setting policies for the administration of justice and the running of the judicial arm. The chief justice also takes part in the selection and recruitment of judges and magistrates who are appointed by the Judicial Service Commission.

He/she is also the administrative head of the judiciary, although the chief registrar of the judiciary is responsible for oversight over administrative matters.

The chief justice also presides over the swearing-in of the president, the deputy president and many other government officials and ceremoniously administers the oath that newly qualified lawyers take as they are admitted to the Roll of Advocates.

List of chief justices

Source: [6]

# Name
Took office Left office Appointed by
East Africa Protectorate
1 Sir Robert Hamilton
1906 1920 Sadler
Colony and Protectorate of Kenya
1 Sir Jacob Barth
1920 1934 Northey
2 Sir Joseph Sheridan
1934 1946 Byrne
3 Sir Barclay Nihill[7]
1946 1951 Mitchell
4 Sir Horace Hearne[8]
1951 1954 Mitchell
5 Sir Kenneth O’Connor[9]
1954 1957 Baring
6 Sir Ronald Sinclair
1957 1963 Baring
7 Sir John Ainley
1963 1963 MacDonald
Dominion of Kenya
1 Sir John Ainley
1963 1964 MacDonald
Republic of Kenya
1 Sir John Ainley
1964 1968 J. Kenyatta
2 Kitili Mwendwa
1968 1971 J. Kenyatta
3 Sir James Wicks
1971 1982 J. Kenyatta
4 Sir Alfred Simpson
1982 1985 Moi
5 Chunilal Madan
1985 1986 Moi
6 Cecil Miller
1986 1989 Moi
7 Allan Hancox
1989 1993 Moi
8 Fred Apaloo
1993 1994 Moi
9 Abdul Majid Cockar
1994 1997 Moi
10 Zachaeus Chesoni
1997 1999 Moi
11 Bernard Chunga
1999 2003 Moi
12 Johnson Gicheru


2003 2011 Kibaki
13 Willy Mutunga
2011 2016 Kibaki
14 David Maraga
2016 2021 U. Kenyatta
15 Martha Koome


2021 U. Kenyatta

List of deputy chief justices

The office of Deputy Chief Justice was created for the first time under the 2010 Constitution.

  1. Nancy Makokha Baraza (2011 - 2012)
  2. Kalpana Rawal (2013 - 2016)
  3. Philomena Mbete Mwilu (2016 - present)

See also


  1. ^ "Supreme Court Overview". The Judiciary. Republic of Kenya. Archived from the original on 1 May 2016. Retrieved 5 November 2016.
  2. ^ Njeru, Betty. "President Uhuru appoints Martha Koome as new Chief Justice". The Standard. Retrieved 20 May 2021.
  3. ^ Wekesa, Grace. "ODM MPs oppose changes to law on hiring chief justice". Archived from the original on 15 September 2016. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  4. ^ "President's power to hire Chief Justice quashed - Daily Nation". Archived from the original on 1 July 2016. Retrieved 26 June 2016.
  5. ^ Munguti, Richard; Ochieng, Abuid (16 June 2016). "Judge Mohamed Ibrahim named acting Supreme Court president". Daily Nation. Nairobi. Archived from the original on 21 August 2016. Retrieved 19 October 2016. Justice Mohamed Ibrahim will act as Supreme Court president following the exit of Willy Mutunga.
  6. ^ "Our History". Republic of Kenya. Archived from the original on 4 October 2015. Retrieved 2 October 2015.
  7. ^ Rennie, G.M. (6 May 1947). "Government Notice No 438". The Official Gazette of the Colony and Protectorate of Kenya. Vol. 49, no. 19. Nairobi. p. 2. Archived from the original on 12 August 2016. Retrieved 22 June 2016.
  8. ^ Mitchell, P.E. (29 May 1951). "Government Notice No 593". The Official Gazette of the Colony and Protectorate of Kenya. Vol. 53, no. 27. Nairobi. p. 1. Archived from the original on 12 August 2016. Retrieved 22 June 2016.
  9. ^ "The Church House, Westminster, S.W.1 5th February, 1954" (PDF). The London Gazette. No. 40110. London. 23 February 1954. p. 10. Archived (PDF) from the original on 22 June 2016. Retrieved 23 June 2016.