Kenya is going through the process of selecting the next chief justice. Candidates for the post are being interviewed by a panel of prominent lawyers in a public hearing. This is a new selection process – previously the chief justice was appointed by the president and did not need to be accountable to anyone else. You can tell that the lawyers are enjoying digging into the (often ill-prepared) judges. Ahmednasir, the former law society of Kenya chairman had this question for Lady Justice Ang’awa:

Your judgments consist of one line or one paragraph rulings, skeleton in nature and lacks depth. It is evident you have a problem writing in prose. Do you think writing in poetry will help or capture the essence of justice?

Reading the coverage of the hearings is quite entertaining and also illuminating. The interviewers are bringing up particular cases that the judges handled and putting them to task for decisions handed suspiciously in favor of connected politicians or businessmen. The best part of this is that the judges never thought they would have to explain their decisions and some are still indignant when asked to.

Going back to Ang’awa – how does a judge of the High Court make a career of issuing one-line rulings? Sure, it looks good for her statistics that she clears many cases. At this level, though, the goal of a judge is not simply to adjudicate conflicts – they interpret the law, provide guidance to lower courts  and establish precedent which will guide future courts. How is one to infer a legal doctrine from one-line rulings? My advice for the justice is to branch out. Try some verses as Ahmednasir suggested. Maybe combine the love for brevity with poetic skills and write some haiku.


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