Judicial independence and accountability in Kenya: the impact of constitutional reform and implementation, including judicial vetting

During the 2000s, the Kenyan judiciary attracted low levels of trust in expert assessments and in public surveys. Systemic corruption and political subservience were common criticisms. Yet since the adoption of the 2010 Constitution the judiciary is widely seen as having increased its independence and accountability. For many, this is exemplified by the 2017 Supreme Court decision that nullified the election victory of an incumbent President, despite political pressure. This paper considers the impact of constitutional reform and implementation on the judiciary. Starting with the old constitution that allowed governments to manipulate judicial appointments and discipline, the paper considers how the 2010 Constitution reformed the Judicial Service Commission and its appointment and discipline processes, while requiring all existing judges to be vetted. Ironically, renewed political pressure on the current Kenyan judiciary provides some evidence of the success of these reforms.