Will election restore ‘lost glory’ of lawyers’ society?

Demonstrators march on the streets calling for the removal of LSK Chairman Allen Gichuhi. [Photo: Standard]
Members of the legal fraternity are now seeking to reclaim the Law Society of Kenya (LSK)’s lost glory.

The once prestigious and very vocal society seems to have lost its voice in recent years, leaving issues such as public interest litigation to the common man as its members watch helplessly.

In its heyday, LSK commanded respect. Since it’s formation in 1948, it’s word, especially on matters that touched on the country, was taken seriously.

Now, it’s members agree that the giant society is on the verge of collapse and needs to go back to the drawing board.

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“LSK is on the verge of death and it has become too political. Senior lawyers must get back to the society and save it,” Homa Bay MP Peter Kaluma, a member of the Parliamentary Justice and Legal Committee, said.

The public, he said, now relies on activists like Okiya Omtata and the civil society to fight for their rights instead of LSK.

Speaking the truth

And to highlight just how bad things are at LSK, Mr Kaluma said that since the society’s inception more than 70 years ago, none of its chairmen or presidents has received a State commendation for services rendered.

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“The current leadership has killed the society to the point that the State awarded it for the good job,” he said.

He is not alone in condemnation of the current leadership. Lawyer Vincent Lempaa told Sunday Standard that the current office bearers have failed members by not presenting motions passed in Annual General Meetings to the National Assembly’s legal committee and putting the government on check.

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Nelson Havi, a prominent Nairobi lawyer now seeking to head LSK, said the society’s leadership has dwindled in its strength to when Pheroze Nowrojee, the late Mutula Kilonzo, Paul Muite, Raychelle Omamo, Okong’o Omogeni and Ahmednassir Abdulahi were at the helm.

“What the LSK president said concerning law during that time was respected. LSK stood out and spoke the truth and that is why we want a new brave bar to resuscitate the society,” he said.

But the current office maintained that it worked as per the society’s mandate and chose not to go public on their operations.

Vice Chairperson Harriett Chiggai dismissed the claims that they have killed the society, saying they have represented the public in a number of key cases.

She mentioned the cases challenging President Uhuru Kenyatta’s decision not to gazette the list of 41 judges forwarded to him by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), the housing levy in which the government wanted to deduct 1.5 per cent of workers’ basic salary and the one on Huduma number.

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“The official LSK spokesman is the president but then as a vice chair, I have been in the media to talk about issues affecting us as a community,” she said.

Ms Chiggai, who is the youngest among the contestants hoping to succeed LSK President Allen Gichuhi who she is currently deputising, agreed that the society needs to reclaim its former glory.

“We need to reclaim the public faith, advice the government on policies and enhance law reforms,” she said.

The society that is more than 70 years old has been operating with a lean secretariat created to serve 2,000 members but is today overwhelmed by more than 10,000.

Top seat

The problems in the society are evident on the manifestos posted by four candidates interested in the society’s top seat in the coming elections.

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Besides Chiggai, other candidates cleared to run for president in next month’s elections are Maria Mbeneka, Charles Kanjama and Havi. Most of the candidates have listed lawyers unity and the rule of law as some of the major issues in their agenda.

For instance, Ms Mbeneka says she will strive to unify the society and promote the rule of law through public interest litigation.

For Havi, he promises to monitor legislation to enable member participation and public benefit.

One of the major issues in the candidates’ manifestos is the division between the young and the old lawyers, a difference that came to the fore at a members’ meeting held in September 2018.

The heated meeting to amend or adopt some of the sections in the draft LSK (General) Regulations 2018, brought out the deep differences between the young and old lawyers, with each side seeking to have its way.

The young lawyers succeeded in shooting down two sections of the proposals on a subscription fees and penalties for late payment. New members are required to pay the subscription fees of Sh21,560 and those renewing have to part with Sh21,000 annually.

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LSKNelson HaviPheroze NowrojeeLSK Elections