The Honorable Dr. Willy Mutunga was Kenya’s chief justice and president of the Supreme Court from 2011 to 2016. He served as secretary general of the Commonwealth special envoy to the Maldives in the second half of 2016 and was a distinguished scholar-in-residence at Fordham Law’s Leitner Center for International Law and Justice School from October 2016 to May 2017. In October-December 2019, he was one of two foreign experts who advised the Constitution Review Commission of the Gambia on its draft Constitution.
Justice Mutunga, who studied law in Dar es Salaam University and Osgoode Hall Law School in York University in Toronto, Canada, played a pivotal role in the constitution-making processes in Kenya in the 1970s and the early 1990s. He worked on the implementation of Kenya’s progressive 2010 Constitution as head of the judiciary and president of the apex court in the country. In his writings and judgments, he advocated for the development of indigenous, robust, patriotic, decolonized, de-imperialized, pro-people, democratic, and progressive jurisprudence that is not insular and does not pay unthinking deference to other jurisdictions, regardless of how prominent they may be. He has also advocated for a progressive jurisprudence for Africa and the global South as part of a significant contribution in the struggle for a new just, peaceful, and equitable world.
During his tenure as chief justice, Justice Mutunga sought to lay permanent and indestructible foundations for a transformed judiciary. Under the blueprint of the Kenyan Judiciary Transformation Framework 2012-2016, he achieved impressive progress in bringing the justice system closer to the ordinary people. He also worked on the linkage between formal and traditional justice systems as decreed by the Constitution. He not only humanized the Kenyan judicial system but also reduced its case backlogs significantly. He aimed to use technology as an enabler of justice, as well as to bring about equitable and transparent systems of recruitment, promotions, and training. He supported and strengthened the Judicial Training Institute as a nucleus for juristic training and an institution of higher learning.
Justice Mutunga is well known for his fight against corruption in the judiciary and in Kenya as a whole. He spearheaded independent and principled dialogue, consultation, and collaboration between the three arms of government, the devolved governments, civil and corporate society, the media, and the public. Under his watch, the notion of the judiciary as an institutional political actor began to take root.
Justice Mutunga’s vision for a planet that is free, just, gender-just, equitable and egalitarian, peaceful, non-militaristic, ecologically safe and healthy, and a planet that does not put profits, property and power before the people.