Kalpana Hasmukhrai Rawal is a renowned Kenyan Asian lawyer who served as Deputy Chief Justice (DCJ) of the Supreme Court of Kenya from 3rd June 2013 to 14th June 2016, before retiring while aged 70 years after a legal career spanning 49 years.
In this article, WoK brings you the story Rawal’s rise from a village girl in India to becoming the first woman to run a law firm in Kenya and eventually the second most powerful person in Kenya’s Judiciary.
Kalpana Rawal Background
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Kalpana Hasmukhrai Rawal was born on 15th January 1946 in Bhuj village in Gujarat State of India. She was born into a middle class family where her father was a judge and her grandfather a deputy law minister in the State of Kutch in India. She worked hard in school and after completing her secondary school education, she secured a full scholarship to study a law degree at St Xaviers College. She would then go on to do a Master of Laws in Constitutional and administrative law and received both her LLB and LLM degrees in India.
Her Career journey began in 1968 when she was first admitted to the Bar in India. It was during this time that she got to work with Justice P.N Bhagwati who later went on to become the 17th Chief Justice of India. While speaking during an exclusive interview with Standard Media, Kalpana recalled how the former Chief Justice gave her wise words when she was still a beginner.
“I remember the former Chief Justice of India, Justice P.N Bhagwati inviting me to his chambers for words of guidance and encouragement. He told me that if I want to be a good judge or a good lawyer, I should not take in everything. I should be like a sieve. Whatever is real, I should keep that. That is why I have a reputation for always getting straight to the point, rather than dwelling on unnecessary things,” she explained.
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During the time Kalpana was living in India and young Kenyan Indian men would travel to India to look for wives. Dr Hasmukh K. Rawal, a Kenyan Indian educationist and philanthropist, wasn’t left behind and also traveled to India where he met with one of Kalpana’s uncles who thought that Rawal would make a great couple with Kalpana. The two subsequently met and it was love at first sight and the two got married.
“When I met him, everything felt right. We clicked. I was about 26 or 27 years old when we got married,” she told the Standard.
Following her marriage to Rawal, she had no option but to relocate with her husband to Kenya in 1973.
Relocating to Kenya
In 1973, Kalpana finally landed in Kenya and while she awaited her admission to the Kenyan Bar, she began teaching administration and regular police officers at the Kenya Institute of Administration in Lower Kabete. A year later she got pregnant and on the day she delivered her baby boy named Vivek in 1975, she also received a Certificate of Entrance to the Kenyan Bar. She went on to establish K.H Rawal Advocates firm with offices situated at Imenti House, becoming the first female lawyer to operate a law firm in Kenya. She was involved in legal practice with her law firm until 1999 when she was appointed a judicial service commissioner and later a High Court Judge during the late President Moi regime.
The Highs of her Judicial Career in Kenya
During her tenure as a judge of the High Court of Kenya, she made reforms in every division that she was assigned to handle by reducing the backlog of cases in the courts. Some of the departments she served in include Criminal, Civil, Land, Family and Environmental law. In April 2010, she was appointed the Liaison judge for Kenya, a position that made her become a member of the International Hague Network of Judges. The then Chief Justice would also appoint her to assist the International Criminal Court (ICC) with investigations of the 2007 post-election violence.
In 2011, she was among the nine applicants interviewed for the Chief Justice of Kenya position but she lost to former Chief Justice Dr. Willy Mutunga. On February 2013, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) nominated her for the position of Deputy Chief Justice of Kenya and later approved by the parliament and the President to effectively become the Vice President of the Supreme Court of Kenya, a position that would become the peak of her career. Following her extensive contributions to the Kenyan legal sector, she was awarded the Elder of the Order of Burning Spear (EBS) by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Kalpana Rawal was required to retire from the Supreme Court in January 2016 upon reaching 70 years in line with the new constitution of Kenya. However, she would not agree with the retirement notice issued to her by the Judicial Service Commission insisting that she was supposed to leave office at 74 years since she was first appointed as a judge under the old constitution where the retirement age was 74 years old. She lost the case in the high court, court appeal and finally the Supreme Court where she finally accepted defeat, cleaned her office and went into retirement.