For 85-year-old human rights activist John Khaminwa, law is in his blood. After all, he has practiced for more than fifty years. The only thing that will separate him from law is death. According to Khaminwa, listening to other people’s problems rather than thinking about your own is very therapeutic.
The veteran lawyer has represented so many well known politicians including Raila Odinga, the late Kenneth Matiba and George Anyona during the struggle against dictatorship. He strongly supported those who fought for multi party democracy, something that got him into detention between 1982 and 1983. He was detained again for a few weeks in 1990 in connection with the famous Saba Saba rally which was to be held on 7th July to spearhead the debate on multi parties, a rally the Moi regime was against.
The lawyer is vocal and has not failed to play a role in the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) debate. He is among the lawyers who want the court of appeal to uphold the high court ruling which declared the BBI unconstitutional.
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On Friday 2nd July 2021, he made headlines after urging the judges hearing the BBI appeal case to dismiss president Uhuru Kenyatta’s case in what he called disrespect to judges and courts. The lawyer was making an appearance for the Kenya Human Rights Commission and Kituo Cha sheria. He said the president had shown disrespect for the court after refusing to appoint the four judges nominated by the Judicial Service Commission.
“If you have a president who demeans judges and disobeys court orders, the court must stand its ground and say no to him,” he said.
He got a Master of Law in International law from New York University School of Law
Khaminwa has been practicing law and fighting for human rights for over fifty years. He started Khaminwa & Khaminwa Advocates and has represented so many high profile people from way back in the 90s.
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In the 1980s, he represented pro-democracy agitators like Oginga Odinga. He also represented Rumba Kinuthia in a treason case.
Long after democracy and multi parties had been established, he still continues to represent a number of well known individuals.
He was the senior counsel representing former Nairobi governor Mike Sonko in his Ksh10 million graft case. However, he later withdrew from the case claiming that he did not have all the evidence documents and would, therefore, be of no use to the case. He accused the magistrate of bias by denying the defense more time to prepare the case and also added the trial against Sonko was unconstitutional.
The senior lawyer was also a part of the legal team which represented Miguna Miguna in his case after the government failed to uphold the court order that allowed him back to the country.
Back in the day, he also defended the widow of SM Otieno, who was a lawyer. The wife wanted her husband buried at their home in Nairobi while his people wanted him buried in his village in Nyanza. He won the case but it was appealed and he lost it, hence, the lawyer was buried in his village. In a 2002 interview, he revealed that the case had political ramifications. Apparently, Luo Parliamentarians said they would be defeated for re-election if burial was not done at the deceased home.
He lost his wife of 48 years Joyce Khaminwa, who was a high court judge, in 2014. In 2017, he suffered yet another very painful loss, the loss of his firstborn son Albert Khaminwa. Albert was a lawyer who at the time of his death had become a senior lawyer at Khaminwa & Khaminwa Advocates. The death of his two loved ones greatly affected him but well life must move on.
His other children are Arthur, Anne and Anjela.
A report by the Judicial Service Commission described her as “a feisty and brave individual. After having given illustrious service for many years, the time has come for the judge to call it a day. It is not enough that her spirit be willing, however commendable her record..”
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