High Court Judge Said Chitembwe broke down while answering a question during the Chief Justice interviews that kicked off on Monday.
The two-week interviews are being conducted by the Judicial Service Commission and Justice Chitembwe was the first among 10 candidates scheduled to appear before the JSC panel.
During the Monday interview, Justice Chitembwe was unable to control emotions as he expressed concerns over misuse of the Judiciary by other arms of government.
The 54-year-old judge was responding to a question on a corruption case in which he had been charged and later acquitted.
In 2009 after his appointment to the Judiciary by President Mwai Kibaki, Chitembwe was arrested and charged with abuse of office when he served as the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) Corporation Secretary. He denied the charges.
He was suspended from office while undergoing trial until his acquittal in 2011 when he was reinstated.
The court ruled then that justice Chitembwe and former National Social Security Fund (NSSF) managing trustee Rachel Lumbasyo had no case to answer in Sh1.37 billion and abuse of office case.
While responding to the question touching on the case, Justice Chtembwe fought back tears and with a breaking voice said, “If an accused comes before you and raises his hand, hear him”.
He switched off his microphone for a moment as he was offered a box of tissue.
Commissioner Everlyn Olwande gave the judge a few moments to collect himself before going on with the interview.
“Take your time honorable Judge,” she said.
Chitembwe went on, “It’s good you have asked these questions.”
Chitembwe noted that judicial officers must be very careful not to be influenced by external forces while discharging their duties.
“As you sit as a judicial officer, you should be able to sift out what has been brought for serving other purposes and what has been genuinely brought as a court case,” he said.
He wondered why it sometimes takes so long even up to a month for suspects to be granted bail.
“You’d rather even deny so that the party can go to another court,” he added.
During the grilling, he was forced to defend a ruling he delivered in 2016 on defilement that has over the years sparked controversy.
In the ruling that was ranked the world’s worst ruling for women’s rights in 2016, Justice Chitembwe set a man serving a 20-year jail term for defiling a 13-year-old girl free on grounds that it was wrong to hand the man the heavy punishment when both were enjoying the relationship.
While appearing before the panelists, Justice Chitembwe said that the ruling was based on the practicability of the issue more than the legal framework.
“How do you take a 19-year-old young man for 15 years in jail for having a relationship with a 17-year-old girl?” he posed.
“When I write my judgment, I am not considering what the judge of appeal will say. I am ready to be criticized. In the said case, the lady (child) said she went to the man’s house, had sex with him and went home, she was not defiled.”
Other candidates expected to appear before the panelists are Lady Justice Martha Koome, Justice Marete Njagi, Philip Kipchirchi Murgor, Kameri Mbote, Justice Nduma Nderi, Senior Counsel Fredrick Ngatia, William Ouko, Moni Wekesa and Alice Jepkoech.
A successful candidate will succeed David Kenani Maraga who retired in January this year.