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Chief Justices

All time Chief Justices in Kenya

Sir John Ainley


Sir John Ainley was the first independent Kenya Chief Justice after having assumed office in 1962, a year before independence. Sir Ainley who served in several British colonial territories before coming to Kenya, had the singular honour of having sworn in the last Governor General of Kenya, Sir Malcolm MacDonald, in 1963, and Kenya’s founding President, Jomo Kenyatta, in 1964.

He served until 1968 when he was replaced by Justice Dennis Farrel. Sir Ainley is remembered as the judge who convicted Kisilu Mutua for the assassination of Pio Gama Pinto, a Kenyan journalist, politician and freedom fighter.

Ainley sentenced Mr Mutua to death on July 15, 1965.

Arthur Dennis Farrel


Justice Arthur Dennis Farrel, the second Chief Justice of post independence Kenya, was appointed to the post in an acting capacity in May 1968. He occupied the office of the CJ for the shortest period in history. It is believed that he was sent home because of his handling of the criminal appeal of Bildad Kaggia, the former freedom fighter and a fiery nationalist who agitated for the poor and the landless. Kaggia at one time, served as a Minister in Jomo Kenyatta’s Cabinet. He had been convicted of holding a political meeting without a license and sentenced to one year imprisonment. He appealed and his case came up before acting CJ Farrell and a Mr Justice Dalton. They upheld the conviction, but reduced the sentence to six months. Farrell was immediately retired after having served for only two months.

Kitili Mwendwa


Justice Kitili Mwendwa, the third Chief Justice in independent Kenya, was appointed to assume office at the age of 39. Mwendwa, is the first black African of Kenyan origin, to hold the office of the CJ. He obtained a Bachelor of Laws degree from Exeter University and a Masters degree in law from Oxford University. Justice Mwendwa was admitted to the Bar in England and was a barrister of Lincoln’s Inn. He joined the civil service in 1962 quickly rising to become Permanent Secretary in 1963 and Solicitor General in 1964. He became the Chief Justice of Kenya in July 1968 after the retirement of the then acting CJ Arthur Farrell. Mwendwa resigned in 1971 following accusations that he was part of a military plot to overthrow the Government of President Jomo Kenyatta. He later came back to public service as a Member of Parliament for Kitui Central after more than a decade in private business. Justice Mwendwa died in a road accident in September 1985.

Sir James Wicks

1971- 1982

Sir James Wicks was appointed the fourth Chief Justice of Kenya after the resignation of Justice Mwendwa. Sir Wicks, a conservative Englishman and a former surveyor before he shifted to law, goes down in history as Kenya’s longest serving CJ and the only one to have served two Heads of State, Presidents Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi.

During his leadership at the Judiciary, it is said that the Executive did not lose any critical case and judges were known to consult with the Government whenever the Executive had an interest in a case. Sir Wicks who strongly supported the Government, is said to have rewritten a judgment in favor of the Executive. For his loyalty, the law on retirement age was amended three times to retain him until he was 74 years old. This happened when he attained the age of 68, 70, and finally 72, when the Constitution was amended to set the retirement age at 74 years.

Chunilal Bhagwandas Madan


Justice Chunilal Madan was the second Kenyan to be appointed the sixth Chief Justice of Kenya. Madan is among public officers who served at different times, in all three branches of the government; the Judiciary, the Legislature and the Executive. A former student of Jamhuri High School, he was called to the Bar in London at the Middle Temple Inn at the age of 21. He was later to be recognised by the Queen of England with the prestigious honour of Queen’s Counsel. He was appointed a judge of the High Court in 1961. At 74 years old, he was the longest serving member of the Judiciary to be appointed CJ by President Daniel arap Moi in 1985. He is best remembered for saving Stanley Munga Githunguri, a politician, when he prohibited the Attorney General from prosecuting him. He ruled that prosecutorial powers were being used in an oppressive manner. Madan is remembered for his brilliance, sound understanding of the law and independence from the Executive. In the short period he served, Madan did a lot to restore the reputation of the institution which had until then, often acted at the behest of the Executive. He was the first person to take steps over corruption in the Judiciary. Madan is arguably both the best judge to ever sit on the Kenyan Judiciary and also the best CJ to ever head it after his predecessors. He served for only 13 months before reaching the mandatory retirement age.

Cecil Henry Ethel wood Miller

1986- 1989

Cecil Henry Ethelwood Miller is the second black person to be appointed to the office of the Chief Justice after Justice Mwendwa and the seventh since independence. Born in Guyana, Justice Miller served as a fighter pilot for the Royal Air Force in England during World War II before studying law and being called to the Bar at the Middle Temple Inn.

He came to Kenya in 1964 at the invitation of Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta shortly after independence and joined the High Court as the first judge of African origin. He was promoted to the Court of Appeal in 1978 after 14 years at the High Court. He shot to national prominence in 1983 when he was appointed to head a judicial commission of inquiry to investigate allegations that the former Attorney General, Charles Njonjo, was plotting to overthrow the government of President Daniel arap Moi.

During his tenure, the Judiciary became more emasculated by the Executive and the Government removed the security of tenure for judges and that of the Chief Justice. He was however instrumental in the africanisation of the Judiciary. Justice Miller was the first chairman of the Law Reform Commission.

Robin Allan Winston Hancox 1989-1993 

Robin Allan Winston Hancox


Allan Robin Winston Hancox served as the eighth independent Kenya Chief Justice between 1989 and 1993 during the turbulent period of the agitation for multiparty democracy. Born in England, where he attended school, Hancox came to Kenya after being called to the Bar and joined the colonial Judiciary as a resident magistrate in 1957. He was transferred to Nigeria in the same capacity but came back to Kenya in 1963 as a senior resident magistrate. Hancox was appointed High Court judge in 1969 and later in 1982, joined the Court of Appeal. He served as the chairman of the law Reform Commission from 1987 until his appointment as Chief justice. Hancox is well known for the Kenya Appeal Reports referred to as the Hancox Reports, published under his editorship.

Fred Kwasi Apaloo


Justice Fred Kwasi Apaloo, the ninth Chief Justice of independent Kenya, has the distinction of serving as Chief Justice in two countries. First, he served in Ghana between 1977 and 1986 and later in Kenya in 1993. Born in the Volta Region of Ghana, Apaloo studied law in England and was admitted to the Bar at the Honorary Society of the Middle Temple Inn. He returned home to practice law and in 1964 he was appointed a High Court Judge after the independence of Ghana in 1957. As a judge in Ghana, he distinguished himself by acquitting five persons, including three associates of President Kwame Nkurumah, who had been charged with treason against his regime. Despite the bad blood it created with the Government, he was appointed to the Court of Appeal in 1966 and later, to the Supreme Court of Ghana in 1971. In 1977, he was appointed Chief Justice of Ghana. He joined the Kenyan Judiciary in the early 1980s as a High Court judge and rose to become a Court of Appeal Judge in the late 1980s. He left the court to work for the World Bank Administrator Tribunal where he served until his appointment as Chief Justice of Kenya in 1993.

Abdul Majid Cockar


Justice Abdul Majid Cockar was appointed the 10th Chief Justice of independent Kenya in 1994. Cockar who first trained as teacher, enrolled as a Barrister in Law in 1946 and qualified with a Post Graduate Diploma.  He started his legal career taking briefs in the Mau Mau trials during the emergency. He joined the judicial service as a Resident Magistrate in 1961 rising through the ranks to serve as High Court Judge and Judge of Appeal and later appointed in 1994 as the Chief Justice. To his credit, he is the only former CJ who has published his memoirs, “Doing, non-Doings and Mis-Doings by Kenya Chief Justices, 1963-1998.” Cockar served on the bench for over 35 years, before retiring in 1997 as a Chief Justice.

Zachaeus Richard Chesoni


Justice Zacchaeus Chesoni was serving as chairman of the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK) when he was appointed the 11th Chief Justice by President Daniel arap Moi in December 1997. He was the second indigenous Kenyan after Justice Mwendwa to hold the office of the Chief Justice in Kenya since it gained independence from Britain. After qualifying as a lawyer, Chesoni started out at the lands office. He later joined the Judiciary as Registrar, succeeding J. Nyarangi. He was first appointed to the bench in 1974. Chesoni served as Chief Justice until his untimely demise in 1999.

Bernard Chunga


Bernard Chunga was a surprise appointment as the 12th Chief Justice of the independent Kenya. Chunga previously worked as Deputy Public Prosecutor and was the lead counsel in the Commission of Inquiry into the death of Robert Ouko. He was the last Chief Justice of Kenya during President Daniel arap Moi’s reign, but his name is more associated with his earlier role as the country’s Deputy Public Prosecutor when he was one of Moi’s principal instruments in dealing with political dissident, academics and activists in the 1980s. He is best known for his aggressive prosecutions against members of Mwakenya Movement, an outfit that was accused of fanning anti-government ideals in the early 1980s, and other underground movements.

A product of the old Kenya School of Law, Chunga began his career as a policeman and later joined the Attorney General’s Chambers where he rose to the position of Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). He was promoted to CJ in 1999. A strict disciplinarian and excellent administrator, Chunga was known to attend to complaints in the Judiciary and to effectively resolve them. Chunga was feared by court personnel, magistrates, and even some judges for his no-nonsense approach to administration.

He established special divisions of courts for specific issues, thereby addressing structural causes behind delays. In 2001 he crafted rules for applications to the High Court for enforcement of fundamental rights. He revived the publication of written Law Reports in 2002. On February 26, 2003, rather than face a tribunal established by newly elected President Mwai Kibaki to investigate alleged misconduct, Justice Chunga resigned paving way for the appointment of Justice Evans Gicheru.

Johnson Evans Gicheru


Johnson Evans Gicheru was appointed to hold the office of the Chief Justice by President Mwai Kibaki upon his election in 2003. He is the second longest serving CJ and the 13th to hold the office. Early in his career, he worked as a Senior State Counsel in the Office of the Attorney General and as an administrative officer in the Office of the President.

Justice Gicheru was appointed a Judge of the High Court in 1982 and on June 8, 1988, to the Court of Appeal. His tenure as CJ, begun on February 21, 2003. Justice Gicheru secured national admiration in 1991 when he chaired the judicial commission of inquiry into the disappearance and death of the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr Robert Ouko. He retired on February 27, 2011, upon the promulgation of the new Constitution.

Dr Willy Mutunga

2011- 2016

Justice Willy Mutunga was appointed the 13th Chief Justice of the independent Kenya on June 22, 2011. Mutunga is the first Chief Justice to be appointed competitively and publicly under the new Constitution, with the mandate of first President of the newly established Supreme Court. Dr Mutunga obtained a bachelor’s degree in law and master’s degree from the University of Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, in 1971 and 1974, respectively, and a PhD from York University (Osgoode Hall Law School) in Toronto, Canada in 1992. He taught law at the University of Nairobi, where he was also Secretary-General of the University Staff Union.

He also served as chairman of the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) and Executive Director of Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) and Kituo Cha Sheria – Legal Advice Centre. His work in the pro-democracy movement put him at loggerheads with President Moi’s regime. As a result, Dr Mutunga was detained in 1982 to 1983. He is widely published and until his appointment as the CJ, Dr Mutunga was the representative for the Ford Foundation, Eastern Africa Regional in Nairobi.

Dr Mutunga is a lawyer, intellectual, human rights advocate, reform agent, writer and philanthropists. He is a firm believer in positive masculinity and mentorship. His career spans a rich experience in litigation, civil society, academia and government.

Dr Mutunga is credited for spearheading wide ranging reforms in Kenya’s Judiciary and the justice sector thereby laying the foundation for a responsive, open and independent Judiciary, and one that is conscious and committed to delivering on its constitutional mission.

David Kenani Maraga

2016 – 2021

Justice David Kenani Maraga is the 14th Chief Justice of the Republic of Kenya. Maraga replaced Dr Willy Mutunga in 2016 after the retirement in June 2016. Prior to his appointment as Chief Justice, Maraga was the Presiding Judge of the Court of Appeal at Kisumu and the Chairperson of the Judiciary Committee on Elections. He served as Chairperson of the Tribunal appointed by the President to investigate the conduct of a Judge of the High Court. He served as the Presiding Judge of the Family Division of the High Court at Nairobi and Resident Judge at the High Court at Nakuru.

Before joining the Judiciary, Justice Maraga was a legal practitioner for 25 years in conveyancing, civil and criminal litigation. He also served as the Chairman of the Rift Valley Law Society and as a member of the Constitutional Review Task Force of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, East African Union.

Justice Maraga holds a Master of Laws (LLM) Degree from the University of Nairobi a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) Degree from the same University and a Diploma in Legal Practice from the Kenya School of Law. He was admitted onto the Roll of Advocates in October 1978. He is a member of the Law Society of Kenya and the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, London.

Justice Maraga is an accomplished trainer and facilitator who has facilitated in several capacity-building workshops at the Judiciary Training Institute and the Law Society of Kenya’s Continuous Legal Education (CLE) workshops. He has presented papers in numerous local and international seminars and conducted trainings in Law.

Martha Karambu Koome

2021 to date

Her Ladyship Martha K. Koome assumed office as Chief Justice and the President of the Supreme Court of Kenya on May 21, 2021, replacing Justice David Maraga.

Prior to her appointment as the 15th Chief Justice of the Republic of Kenya, she was a Senior Judge of the Court of Appeal. During the stint as an Appellate Judge, she headed the Criminal Division of the Court and in addition, chaired Committees which developed the Court of Appeal Practice Directions in Civil  and Criminal Appeals as well as the Registry Manual that standardized the registry experience at the Court.

Hon. Justice Koome joined the Judiciary in 2003 as a High Court Judge where she served until 2011. In that period, she was engaged in leadership and administrative roles within the High Court as the Resident Judge of the High Court in Nakuru and Kitale as well as the Head of the then Land and Environment Division of the High Court at Nairobi.

She holds an LLB degree from the University of Nairobi, a Post-graduate Diploma in Law from the Kenya School of Law and an LLM degree from the University of London.

Upon her admission to the roll of advocates in 1987, she was a legal practitioner for fifteen (15) years engaging in conveyancing, commercial law, civil litigation, criminal litigation and family law. She has also been actively engaged in multiple community service projects and promoted children and family matters through volunteer and pro bono services.

Some of Hon. Justice Koome’s milestones include being a Council Member of the Law of Society of Kenya between 1994 and 1996. She was involved in the formation of the East African Law Society in 1995 and even acted as the inaugural Treasurer. She participated in the discussions towards the enactment of the East African Community Treaty and institutions of the Community, such as the East African Court of Justice.

In 1997 she was elected Chairperson of the Federation of Women Lawyers Kenya Chapter (FIDA Kenya) and served in that position for two consecutive terms. In 2005 she was a member of the African Union Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. In the same year she led the Kenyan delegation to Beijing during the major review of the Beijing Platform for Action.

She participated in the law review process which gave rise to the Constitution of Kenya, 2010. She became the President of the Kenya Magistrates and Judges Association (KMJA) in 2019 as well as an official of East Africa Magistrates and Judges Association.

Most recently, Hon Justice Koome was voted as runner-up for the UN Kenya Person of The Year 2020 for her leadership and advocacy concerning the rights of children.

As Chief Justice, Hon. Justice Martha K. Koome chairs the Judicial Service Commission, National Council on the Administration of Justice and the National Council for Law Reporting

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