Judge Ojwang's illustrious career likely to end on sour note
- Prof Ojwang’ has a doctorate of science in law, considered the most advanced degree by most Ivy League institutions.
- Before becoming a judge, he was a lecturer at the University of Nairobi, where he also served as Dean at the School of Law in Parklands.
Supreme Court Judge Jackton Boma Ojwang’ was last evening staring at an undignified end to his illustrious legal career after the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) recommended the formation of a tribunal to investigate his conduct.
In a statement, the JSC, led by chairman Chief Justice David Maraga, said it had found that a petition against Prof Ojwang’ “had disclosed sufficient ground” to warrant a recommendation to President Uhuru Kenyatta to set up a tribunal to investigate the judge's conduct.
Justice Maraga said the petition detailed instances that the petitioners believed constituted misconduct, impropriety, conflict of interest and breach of the Judicial Code of Conduct against Justice Ojwang’.
Among these was a decision by Justice Ojwang’ to sit with other Supreme Court judges in a petition filed by nine residents of Migori against the Town Council of Awendo, despite association with Migori County Governor Okoth Obado
Justice Ojwang’ has defended himself against the accusations, saying he was not part of the Bench that determined the main grievances, which were related to interests in the Sony sugar belt.
He refused to appear before the committee despite being summoned, and instead sent his lawyer, Nani Mungai, to represent him.
“From the whole context of this matter, and from the full context of the ill-intent against me such as is quite evident, I will not myself be appearing before the well-known committee members of the Judicial Service Commission,” Justice Ojwang’ wrote in a letter to the JSC on March 15.
Once President Kenyatta receives the petition, he has 14 days to form a tribunal to probe the judge.
JUDGES ON TRIAL
While on suspension pending the outcome of the tribunal’s investigations, Justice Ojwang’ will receive half his salary.
Only three judges — Tom Mbaluto, Vitalis Juma and, more recently, Joseph Mutava — have been removed from service through tribunals.
Apart from the sugar belt case, the petitioners complained of a road built in Justice Ojwang’s rural home in Kakrao, Migori County. But the judge has dismissed the claim as “a pure figment of imagination”.
The commission at the same time said it had considered two new petitions, one by Mr Yussuf Ibrahim Dimbil against CJ Maraga for alleged gross violations of the Constitution and another by Mr Mohamed Mohamud Sheikh against four Supreme Court judges — Justices Ojwang’, Mohammed Ibrahim, Smokin Wanjala and Njoki Ndung’u — for alleged gross misconduct, incompetence, and breach of the Constitution and oath of office.
Another petition asks the JSC to investigate the conduct of Court of Appeal Judge Mohammed Warsame with a view to removing him.
The petitioner, Mr Wardere Mohamud Bule, alleges that Justice Warsame has breached the Judicial Code of Conduct by forging a close relationship with a senior lawyer.
Mr Maraga said the Commission had directed that the concerned judges, including himself, be served with the petitions. They were given 14 days within which to file their responses.
The JSC also considered responses to 17 petitions that had been filed against various judges of the Court of Appeal and the High Court.
“Upon deliberation, the JSC admitted nine of them for hearing and found no merit in the other eight and accordingly dismissed them,” Mr Maraga said.
For Prof Ojwang’, success came almost in equal measure with controversies.
He has always made his opinion known, and the hallmark of his shoot-from-the-hip approach was when he downed tools in 2015 in solidarity with his colleagues, Justices Kalpana Rawal and Philip Tunoi, over the retirement age of judges.
The JSC found him and Justice Njoki Ndung’u guilty of misconduct, but only reprimanded them.
Prof Ojwang’ has a doctorate of science in law, considered the most advanced degree by most Ivy League institutions.
Before becoming a judge, he was a lecturer at the University of Nairobi, where he also served as Dean at the School of Law in Parklands.
On October 28, 2003, he was appointed a judge of the High Court and went on to serve in both Nairobi and Mombasa. On June 16, 2011, he was appointed one of the seven Supreme Court judges.
INTERVIEWS FOR CJ POST
Before the appointment of Justice David Maraga as Chief Justice, Justice Ojwang was seen by some as a possible candidate.
However, the JSC did not to shortlist him as a possible successor of Dr Willy Mutunga, which saw lawyer Sam Mohochi and Prof Yash Pal Ghai move to the High Court seeking to have the commission interview all candidates, or explain why some were not considered.
When the High Court ruled in their favour, Prof Ojwang’ found himself on the interview list. The JSC ranked him last among the interviewees, with just 38 marks out of a possible 100. Justice Maraga scored 84 percent.
Despite his current woes, Prof Ojwang is a man of extraordinary feats. He scored a First Division in the Cambridge School Certificate and was in the pioneer law class of the University of Nairobi in 1971.
After graduation, he was the only student admitted to the Master of Laws course, and immediately after graduation he was employed as a law lecturer.