Justice Paul Kihara Kariuki is part of Kenya’s religious elite. His father, Obadiah Kariuki, educated at Alliance High School, was among the first African bishops of the Anglican Church in Kenya, and pioneered in many other areas.
For a long time, Justice Kariuki served as chancellor of the same church, a position he only relinquished when he became a judge.
Following the purge of the Judiciary instituted by the Narc Government, a large number of vacancies arose in the High Court, which President Kibaki filled by appointing eight acting judges in June, his first judicial appointments, and another 11 in October 2003.
Justice Kariuki was one of the judges appointed in the latter batch, and went on to be confirmed in this position.
Before this, Justice Kariuki had just been appointed the director of the Kenya School of Law, a position that had become vacant after previous holder, Leonard Njagi, was appointed a High Court judge.
Justice Kariuki served in this position only briefly as he was also appointed a judge. He, however, stayed long enough to move the school from its Valley Road address to its present locale in Karen, a situation that delayed his reporting to his new judicial duties.
On appointment, Justice Kariuki became the duty judge at the High Court, replacing Justice Isaac Lenaola who had been appointed a member of the tribunal to investigate judges who chose to contest their removal from the bench.
Justice Kariuki was to hold the position of duty judge for the next two years.
In 2006, Chief Justice Gicheru appointed an integrity review committee, the previous such committee having been the fateful Ringera Committee, which had recommended the purge in the Judiciary.
The Chief Justice appointed Justice Kariuki to head this committee.
The main accomplishment of the Kariuki committee, as it came to be called, was that it addressed, for the first time, financial management issues within the Judiciary and made far-reaching recommendations.
Its report led to a purge on administrative staff who were in charge of these processes.
In 2009, the Chief Justice appointed Justice Kariuki to head the newly established Judicial Training Institute (JTI). The idea behind a dedicated institution to address the training needs of the Judiciary had been under discussion for a long time, and only came to fruition during the Gicheru era.
The Chief Justice had initially appointed Rosemelle Mutoka, a magistrate, as the first director of the JTI, an appointment he revoked in order to appoint Justice Kariuki.
Justice Kariuki is credited with establishing the JTI as a viable institution. From this, it can be guessed that Justice Kariuki had a special relationship with Chief Justice Gicheru.
Together with Justice Joseph Nyamu, he was regarded as one of the confidantes of the former Chief Justice. Throughout his tenure, the Chief Justice spared the two from the frequent transfers around the country to which all other judges were subjected, and as a result, they always served in Nairobi.
However, during his last months in office, there was a falling out between the CJ and Justice Kariuki, leading to his posting, first, to judicial duty at Milimani Commercial Courts and, thereafter, to Machakos (where he was stationed at the time this article was written in 2011).
It is unclear what led to the fallout, but it is thought to have resulted from the expose by Nation that Justice Kariuki was being groomed to succeed Justice Gicheru.
After the media reports, Justice Kariuki, who until then had served as fulltime director of JTI, was assigned judicial duties without the courtesy of being formally notified about this.
He learnt from colleagues that his name had suddenly appeared on the cause list. The former Chief Justice also failed to approve a foreign trip for him.
It is interesting to go back to the initial media reports themselves. Nation had revealed that the funeral of the son of former Cabinet minister Njenga Karume, attended by a large number of politicians, had been used as the launching pad for Justice Kariuki’s bid for Chief Justice.
The judge had been given a visible seat during the funeral and had also been asked to address other mourners, in a clear attempt to profile him to the public.
The revelation was subsequently given credence during the rancorous debates that followed the nomination by President Kibaki of Justice Visram for Chief Justice.
In explaining this nomination, both Prime Minister Raila Odinga and the Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, informed Parliament that Justice Kariuki had been proposed for the position by the President.
The suits that Justice Kariuki has decided portray him as decisive and resolute. For example, he assessed damages of only Sh85 in a suit against Kenya Power and Lighting for malicious prosecution.
In 2003, the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (now Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission) filed a suit against LZ Construction, a company associated with Nicholas Biwott.
The KACC had moved to court and sought the recovery of Yaya Centre as a corruptly acquired asset.
Justice Kariuki, however, struck out the suit on the basis that the KACC had failed to give notice to the owners of Yaya Centre to show that they had acquired the asset other than through corruption, which he found to be a requirement of the law the KACC was seeking to implement.
It is easy to disagree with this decision: why would the court case not be the forum where LZ could show that Yaya Centre had been acquired lawfully?
Justice Kariuki has been involved in a number of cases where the freedom of speech was in issue. He assessed damages in a case filed by Nairobi lawyer John Machira against the Standard newspaper.