Chief Justice nominee David Maraga on Thursday said his first priority if confirmed will be to reduce the huge case backlog, digitise the Judiciary and harmonise the ideologies of the Supreme Court judges.

Speaking to the Nation shortly after the Judicial Service Commission declared him the nominee, Justice Maraga, 65, said he was pleasantly surprised that he had emerged the best.

Until Thursday, he was the presiding Judge of the Court of Appeal in Kisumu.

If confirmed by the National Assembly and appointed by President Uhuru Kenyatta, Justice Maraga will succeed Dr Willy Mutunga, who retired in June.

He will serve for one term, as the retirement age of judges is 70 years.

“I am excited, ready and I will work with colleagues to ensure an efficient service delivery. We still have a long way to go,” he said at his Karen home in Nairobi.

“This is a challenging position but I am ready to give it my best. I will dedicate my energy to ensuring that justice is delivered to every single Kenyan from whatever tribe and social class.”

He said having been in private practice for 25 years and worked in the High Court since 2003, he was familiar with the various gaps and weaknesses that need to be addressed in the justice system.

He said he had the conviction to speed up the hearing of cases by ensuring that the process is digitised.

He also plans to introduce automatic recording and transcription of proceedings to ease reference and judgments.

“Former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga tried his best in ensuring that the backlog of cases was reduced from the initial 900,000 to the 500,000 we have now. If my nomination is approved, I wish to reduce this further and ensure an effective justice delivery system,” he said.

According to him, a large number of the pending cases are dormant and some of the complainants have either given up on them or do not wish to see them to conclusion.

He was optimistic that legal representation countrywide would improve as more advocates are admitted.

Justice Maraga also said the Judiciary, being the custodian of the Constitution, needed to observe the highest degree of law and order.

He pledged that under his leadership, no form of corruption would be condoned.

He promised to initiate investigations into complaints against judges and magistrates to restore public confidence in the Judiciary.

Recognising that the judges of the Supreme Court have in the past differed in opinion and ideas, the nominee said he would consider meeting them to pinpoint their issues of contention and help them reach a consensus.

Asked whether he was willing to forfeit his weekends in case he is called upon, and bearing in mind that he is a staunch Seventh Day Adventist, the judge quoted the Bible, saying: “A calf that falls into a ditch during Sabbath cannot be neglected.”

He asked judges, magistrates and all people working in the Judiciary, that he constantly referred to as ‘colleagues’ to help him by giving him ideas on how to improve the delivery of justice, adding that the position was a challenging one and would require a lot of cooperation.

On the eve of the announcement of his nomination, Mr Justice Maraga presented a report to President Uhuru Kenyatta, recommending the removal of Judge Joseph Mutava for misconduct over his handling of the Kamlesh Pattni case. He headed the tribunal that produced the report.

During interviews for the position of CJ, the judge was challenged to demonstrate his expertise in applying the law.

“The questions were tough and sometimes after the interview, I was not sure if I had answered them correctly, but all in all, I had a conviction that I was the best for the position.”

He thanked his wife Yucabeth Maraga, whom he described as his greatest source of inspiration.

Mrs Maraga said her husband was a dedicated judge and he never wanted anyone, including prisoners, to feel left out.

“He has always visited prisons to discharge his duties and has always spoken to them to get their opinions and views. I think one of his greatest strengths is that he values opinions,” she said.

Justice Maraga holds LLB and LLM degrees from the University of Nairobi.

After receiving his law degree in 1977, he enrolled for a post-graduate diploma from the Kenya School of Law.

In 1978, he started his law firm in Nakuru, where he practised until he was appointed to High Court judge and posted to Mombasa and later Nakuru.

Several leaders sent him congratulatory messages.

ODM leader Raila Odinga said Justice Maraga has a wealth of experience earned as an advocate of many years standing and as a judge of the High Court and subsequently as a judge of the Court of Appeal.

“While in private practice, he handled a number of public law cases, which gave him a deeper understanding of issues relating to human and public rights, governance and the exercise of power and this has informed his positive world view and jurisprudence,”Odinga said.

Wiper Democratic Movement-Kenya said it believes the judge would be up to the task of steering the Judiciary in the right direction.

Party Secretary-General Hassan Omar Hassan said he was optimistic that Justice Maraga would continue to pursue the transformative agenda, re-energise public trust and deal a decisive blow to corruption.

“We believe he will ensure continued observance and adherence to the rule of law and constitutionalism,” he said.