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Kenya swears in first Supreme Court justices

Kenyan Registrar of the High Court Gladys Boss Shollei swore in the nation's first Supreme Court [official website] justices on Friday at a ceremony in the capital city Nairobi. The ceremony was attended by President Mwai Kibaki [official profile] who emphasized the importance [KBC report] of the appointments to the country's ongoing institutional reform. "With all these reforms that we are implementing now, I am quite sure that the country will make good progress," Kibaki told those in attendance. The newly appointed Supreme Court judges are Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, Deputy Chief Nancy Baraza, Phillip Tunoi, Jackton Ojwang, Mohamed Ibrahim, Charles Wanjala and Njoki Ndung'u. The appointments come just one day after the High Court of Nairobi [official website] dismissed a claim that the nomination of only one female judge to the Supreme Court violates the Kenyan Constitution [text, PDF]. The claim was brought by the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Kenya [official website] and other advocacy groups which argued that the appointments would violate Article 27, which requires that no more than two-thirds of a public body be comprised of one gender. The court refused to grant a temporary injunction that would bar the appointment of the justices pending an appeal by FIDA, paving the way for Friday's ceremony.

In June, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) [official website] selected five appointees [JURIST report], one woman and four men, to serve on the nation's first Supreme Court. The list of nominations was submitted to Kibaki for direct appointment because Article 166(1)(b) of Kenya's Constitution exempts the appointees from questioning by the Parliament of the Republic of Kenya [official website]. Kibaki signed a new constitution [JURIST report] into law in August 2010 as part of a reform movement aimed at curbing vast presidential powers. Kenya's new constitution includes numerous checks on presidential authority, among which are the creation of a supreme court and senate. The new constitution was approved [JURIST report] by popular referendum earlier that same month. The creation of a new constitution was part of a power-sharing agreement [JURIST report] reached in 2009 between Kibaki and opposition leader Prime Minister Raila Odinga [official website] that brought to an end the civil unrest that followed the contested election.

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