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Justice Ojwang becomes first sitting judge to receive doctorate in law

Saturday September 5 2015

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When Justice Jackton Ojwang’ stepped out to receive his doctorate in law at the University of Nairobi (UoN) graduation square on Friday, it was history in the making for the Supreme Court judge and the country.

Prof Ojwang’ became the first sitting Judge to graduate with such high honours in law. He was adding another feather to his illustrious academic cap when he graduated with another PhD in law.

His voluminous thesis titled The Unity of the Constitution and the Common Law tells a lot about the man who has spent more than 40 years in the profession.

Prof Tom Ojienda, who also holds a doctorate in law, describes Prof Ojwang’ as a scholar in a class of his own.

“He is not just interested in the practicality of the law as a judge of the Supreme Court but on the theory as well and that’s what explains his decision to continue reading going into new areas of the law,” Prof Ojienda said. “Prof Ojwang’ got his first PhD in comparative constitutional law but since that is in the old constitutional order, his current doctorate in law is [meant] to appreciate the new constitutional dispensation in Kenya.”

He said Prof Ojwang’ is an academic enigma whose forays should be a lesson to many.

Mr James Mwamu, a former president of the East Africa Law Society and a man who was a student of Prof Ojwang’ in constitutional law at UoN, said the award of another PhD did not come as a surprise. He said Prof Ojwang’ is one of the judges who take their work seriously and this can be attested to by the well-researched judgments that he has given and continues to give.

“Prof Ojwang’ is one of the brains writing the judgments in the Supreme Court and the award of the doctorate in law is well deserved,” Mr Mwamu said.

“The EALS resolved to honour and fete Justice Ojwang’ in recognition of his professional achievement and distinguished academic career.”

Justice Ojwang’ joined the Judiciary as a High Court Judge on October 28, 2003 and served for six years and two years respectively in Nairobi and Mombasa.

A citation on the Judiciary’s website says: “Justice Ojwang’ has adjudicated a good variety of cases and rendered comprehensive judgments that set jurisprudential directions especially in criminal, civil, constitutional, administrative law, probate and administration of estates”.

He was appointed a justice of the inaugural bench of the Supreme Court of Kenya on June 16, 2011.

He has participated in numerous international fora of scholarly, policy and law-making deliberations and also made contributions to specialised tasks of the United Nations, African Union and leading foreign universities.

“His scholarly papers have appeared in several leading international law journals, taught a wide range of law courses, conducted research and published in several books and monographs,” the citation says.

For Justice Ojwang’, it has been a long and extraordinary journey in the legal profession serving in both academia and the bench.

“He spent most of his career in academia though was admitted as an advocate of the High Court of Kenya on September 18, 1983,” the citation says.

Justice Ojwang’ attended Homa Bay High School (1965-1968), Thika High School (1969-1970) then UoN, where he earned his first law degree in 1974 and later a master’s degree in 1976. He then proceeded to Downing College (1978 to 1981) in the UK where he earned a PhD degree after specialising in comparative constitutional law.

He was in 2013 awarded Professional Lawyer of the Year award by the East African Law Society.

Justice Ojwang’ has been a lecturer and dean of law at UoN and visiting associate professor of law at J. Reuben Clerk Law School in Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, the US.