By Salad Malicha
Coming from a marginalised and nearly ‘forgotten’ sleepy Samburu county, Isaac Lenaola beat all odds to attain outstanding academic credentials and become Kenya’s top jurist. His journey to the top has not been an easy ride.
Born in late 1967 in Maralal now Samburu County, his passion for law started when he was 16 years. He began his education at St. Mary’s Nursery School in Maralal in 1973. He continued his education at Maralal D.E.B. Primary School and Baragoi Primary School where he sat for his Primary Leaving Examinations.
A then form three student at Alliance High school was intrigued by the corridors of justice. He joined Alliance High School for his O-Levels and A-levels from 1981 to 1986. Young Lenaola was also impressed by how former National Assembly Speaker Francis Ole Kaparo represented his clients at Maralal law courts.
His rise has been meteoric. First being appointed a judge in early 30s, a feat only enjoyed by Justice (retired) Emmanuel O’Kubasu and High Court judge Mbogholi Msagha, to being the youngest judge to serve at the Supreme Court.
Justice Isaac Lenaola loves reading. And to ensure this culture is maintained, he belongs to several book reading clubs. Not even his busy schedule with work at the Supreme Court or when serving as the Deputy Principal Judge at the Court of First Instance of East African Court of Justice or a judge at the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone since 2013 will distract this bookworm judge.
When not reading, Justice Lenaola enjoys jazz music and occasionally, watches the English Premier League where he supports Manchester United.
He decided to study law making him the first Samburu ever to study Law at the University of Nairobi.
In 1990 he joined the Kenya School of Law after finishing his bachelor’s degree in Law.
In 1991 he was admitted to the Bar as an advocate of the High Court of Kenya.
He is always quoted in case management and clearing of backlog, something he achieved when he served at Milimani Court.
The motivated man began his legal career in private practice as a pupil and associate in “Rimui and Mubia Advocates”.
He served as a Commissioner both at the Peoples Commission of Kenya (PCK) and at the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission (CKRC) from2001 to2006) between 1999-2001.
As a Commissioner he played an integral role in the drafting the initial and the second constitution—popularly known as the Bomas Draft. The draft was later redrafted by the Committee of Experts and is now the Constitution of Kenya, 2010.
He was awarded the 2019 Jurist of the year award by International Commission of Jurist. The ICJ said Justice Lenaola is well known by the legal fraternity, locally, regionally and internationally for his dedication to upholding justice and the rule of law.
The annual award, which has been on for the past 25 years, is meant to acknowledge and honour the contributions of an exceptional jurist “who has worked selflessly and courageously towards the promotion and protection of human rights, justice, rule of law and good governance in Kenya”.
Former Chairperson, ICJ Kenya Njonjo Mue, described him as “the jurist who earned his place in history as a courageous, firm, bold, fearless and wise judge.”
“Not only is our Jurist an astute judicial officer but also an acclaimed scholar. Together with Prof. Marion Mutungi, our jurist co-authored and published a book on Bioethics of Medical advances and genetic for manipulation,” read the statement.
He was awarded the Law Society of Kenya award for distinguished service in the Administration of Justice (2008), the East African Law Society honorary membership award for exemplary service and the development of jurisprudence in Kenya and the East African Region (2015) as well as distinguished service awards in the service of the International Association of Refugee and Migration Judges (2014 and 2018).
He also served as a member of the Tribunal Investigating the conduct of Puisne Judges following the “radical surgery” of the judiciary in 2003.
The Judge is also a recipient of the Moran of the Burning Spear from the President for distinguished service in the administration of justice in Kenya and the East African Region.
His appointment as a Judge of the High Court in 2003 saw him have a ray of hope as he saw his calling and judicial philosophy manifesting.
He served as a Resident Judge in Embu, Meru, Machakos , Milimani and Kakamega High Courts.
As a High Court Judge and at the onset of implementation of the Constitution 2010, our jurist served as an elected representative of Kenya Magistrates and Judges Association (KMJA).
At the then newly constituted Judicial Service Commission (JSC). At the JSC, he also served as Chairperson of the Human Resource and Administration Committee (HRAC).
He was previously a Member of the Judicial Training Institute (JTI) Board Chairman and member of various Judiciary Committees, Chairman of the Kenya Magistrates and Judges Association (KMJA) and Treasurer of the East African Magistrates and Judges Association (EAMJA).
Until his appointment as Judge of the Supreme Court, he was the Presiding Judge of the Constitutional and Human Rights Division at the High Court in Milimani, Nairobi where he rendered illuminating and ground-breaking decisions that touched on human rights, devolution and separation of powers, among other areas of jurisprudence.
Justice Lenaola engages in community service initiatives and is a board member of the Nomadic Pastoralist People’s Organisation, Liverpool VCT Centre, and a trustee of the Wanjiru Kunyiha Asthma Trust, International Centre for Relief of Suffering and Starvation, Northern Kenya Education Trust and Northern Rangeland Trust.
His judicial pronouncements have set him apart as a humble, sociable and transformative judge.