THE Judiciary

Our History

The first court in British East Africa was established by the Imperial British East Africa Company in 1890 with A.C.W Jenner as its first judge.
In 1895, the East Africa Protectorate was established with Consular court to serve British and other foreign persons. However a court with jurisdiction over all persons in the territory was first established in 1897 -- Her Majesty’s court of East Africa, which was later renamed ‘the High Court of East Africa’.
The Kenya’s Judiciary has roots in the East African Order in Council of 1897 and the Crown regulations. The Kenyan legal system was shaped by English legal system occasioned by the British administration that lasted over six decades where judges and the bar, were exclusively European.
Before 1895, when Kenya was declared a British Protectorate, the country had no structured legal system. The territory was administered via the Imperial British East Africa Company, which carried out all the obligations undertaken by the British Government under any treaty or agreement made with another State. In 1896, the territory became known as the East African Protectorate. It was then renamed Kenya Colony and Protectorate in 1920 and remained so until 1963 when Kenya became an independent state.
With the settlement of the British in the East African Protectorate, there arose a need for a legislative and administrative system to govern the inhabitants. For ease of administration, the British settlers imported laws and systems of governance from Britain, and British laws that had been codified in India, to apply to the East African Protectorate. These laws were mainly for the benefit of the settlers and were applied without regard to the already existing native society.
The natives were allowed to practice African Customary law while the Hindus who had emigrated from India, to practice Hindu Customary law in the area of personal law as the Muslims and Arabs communities practiced Muslim Law. Kenya’s Judiciary was hence based on a tripartite division of subordinate courts; that is, Native courts, Muslim courts and those staffed by administrative officers and magistrates. A dual system of superior courts that lasted for only five years was also established - one court for Europeans, and the other for Africans.
The colonial authorities empowered village elders, headmen and chiefs to settle disputes as they had done in the pre-colonial period. These traditional dispute settlement organs gradually evolved into tribunals. They were accorded official recognition in 1907, when the Native Courts Ordinance was promulgated. This ordinance established native tribunals that were intended to serve each of the ethnic groups in Kenya.

How the Court System worked

The Chief Native Commissioner could set up, control and administer the tribunals. Similar African tribunals at the divisional level of each district were established. The Governor was authorized to appoint a Liwali at the Coast to adjudicate matters in the Muslim Community.
Appeals against the decisions of tribunals were filed to the D.O, (District/Divisional Officers) D.C, (District Commissioner) or the PC (Provincial Commissioner), while the final appeal lay with the Supreme Court. In cases where non-Africans were involved, the administration of justice was entrusted to expatriate judges and magistrates.
Appeals lay from subordinate courts to the Supreme Court. The head of the system was the Chief Justice while the administrative duties were carried out by the Registrar of the Supreme Court.
Main courts were established in large urban centres - Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu. Judges and magistrates on circuit served other centres. The segregated system of administration of justice prevailed until 1962 when the African courts were transferred from the Provincial Administration to the Judiciary. The independence Constitution established a Supreme Court with unlimited original criminal and civil jurisdiction over all persons, regardless of racial or ethnic considerations. When Kenya became a Republic in 1964, the Supreme Court was renamed the High Court.
In 1967, the Judicature Act, the Magistrates’ Courts Act and the Kadhis Courts Act were enacted to streamline the administration of justice.

Public Information on the Supreme Court Building


The Supreme Court of Kenya sits at the intersection of Taifa Road and City Hall Way in the capital Nairobi. It is located in the Central Business District, next to the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC), and the Office of Governor of the Nairobi County Government.


The Supreme Court Building was built in 1931 and is the official seat of the Chief Justice, the Chief Registrar and the Supreme Court itself. It has played host to many high-profile visitors including Hilary Clinton, who visited in 2012 as Secretary of State, and HE Kofi Annan, who has visited several times.


The building is of national heritage value by virtue of its rich history and architecture. It is classified as a national monument under the Antiquities and Monuments Act.


The building has three floors and a basement. It can be accessed via two gates: the main gate on City Hall Way and the other on Taifa Road, opposite Kenya Re Plaza. Other gates for special access exist.


Chief Justices since Colonial Period to Present

Colonial Chief Justices                                 Period Served


Sir Robert William                                               1905 - 1920

Lt. Col. Jacob William                                         1920 - 1934

Sir Joseph Sheridan                                             1934 - 1946

Sir John Harry Barclay Nihill                                 1946

Sir Harace Hector Hearne                                  1951 - 1954

Sir Kenneth Kennedy O’connor                        1954 - 1957

Sir Ronald Ormiston Sinclair                            1957 – 1962



Independent Kenya Chief Justices       Period Served


Sir John Ainsley                                                  1963- 1968

Arthur Dennis Farrel                                         1968

Kitili Mwendwa                                                   1968 -1971

Sir James Wicks                                                 1971 - 1982

Sir Alfred Henry Simpson                                 1982 - 1985

Chunilal Bhagwandas Madan                           1985 - 1986

Cecil Henry Ethelwood Miller                          1986 - 1989

Robin Allan Winston Hancox                           1989 - 1993

Fred Kwasi Apaloo                                              1993 - 1994

Abdul Majid Cockar                                           1994 - 1997

Zachaeus Richard Chesoni                               1997 - 1999

Bernard Chunga                                                  1999 - 2003

Johnson Evans Gicheru                                     2003 - 2011

Willy Munyoki Mutunga                                     2011-2016

DAVID KENANI MARAGA                                 2016

see all...
see all...