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Law Society of Kenya ‘unable’ to clean its house, a decade later

By - | May 21st 2013

By Frankline Sunday

Nairobi, Kenya: On this day, 10 years ago, the Judiciary was under intense scrutiny following calls by citizens, the civil service and parliamentarians for its ‘radical surgery’, but was itself calling for a similar spotlight to be put on corruption among lawyers.

The judicial reform is now far advanced, but the issue of corrupt lawyers has seemingly followed a less conclusive track.

Back in 2003, under The Standard headline ‘Kwach Urges Purge on Corrupt Lawyers’, the Government had set up an ‘Integrity and Anti-corruption Committee of the Judiciary in Kenya, 2003’ chaired by Justice Aaron Ringera to investigate cases of alleged corruption by judges and magistrates.

However, Court of Appeal judge Justice Richard Otieno Kwach came to the defence of judges and magistrates arguing that the spotlight needed to be turned on to the lawyers instead.

At a conference on judicial and legal systems, Kwach said the purge on the Judiciary should be extended to the lawyers whom he said were deeply mired in graft.

Advocates’ misconduct

“I have heard nothing about purging the Law Society of Kenya and the silence is telling and it smacks of a hidden agenda,” he said.

The Integrity and Anti-Corruption Committee came up with a report later in the year that implicated 23 high-level judges in acts of corruption and abuse of office. The infamous Ringera Report implicated five out of nine Court of Appeal judges, 18 out of 36 High Court judges, and 82 out of 254 magistrates on graft claims.

However, the Advocates Complaints Commission, at that time, had received more than 1,600 complaints against advocates and LSK had also formed an anti-corruption committee to probe acts of corruption and misconduct among advocates.

Addressing Parliament later on that year, Kiraitu Muruingi, the then minister of the newly-created Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs vowed to carry out a purge on the Bar, should such a move be recommended by LSK.  

Fast-forward, 10 years later, and LSK continues to complain about bad apples in their barrel, despite their colleagues on the Bench having undergone a purge, two committee investigations and a grueling vetting whose results are still being felt.

The Supreme Court, a product of the judicial reform process, rubbed lawyers the wrong way earlier on in the year during the hearing of presidential election petitions involving Raila Odinga, Africog and President Uhuru and his Deputy William Ruto and others. In the status hearing prior to the petition hearing, the six-judge Bench declined an application by LSK  to be enjoined in the suit as friends of the court (amicus curiae).

The court said LSK was perceived to be sympathetic to one side of the petition and could not be trusted to be impartial in the proceedings, and its application could not be accepted. This was a loud indictment of LSK, a body once famous for its moral and legal standing and at one time Kenya’s compass in matters social, political and legal.

It did not make matters easier for it when its chairman, Eric Mutua, was summoned before the Supreme Court a few days later for disregarding an order against commenting on the ongoing presidential petitions.

Failing role

In addition to this, LSK has further been accused of remaining mum in matters concerning the public that need legal interpretation. These include the interpretation of the Constitution and its implementation, which, although central in the lives of many Kenyans, remained largely obscured from many citizens, and issues like devolution and the roles of the new administrative officers.

LSK has further been unavailable for comment or interpretation of the numerous Bills that former President Kibaki assented to or others that are on the floor of Parliament setting up Kenyans for unpleasant surprises.

Instead, LSK has been politicised, as was seen in the run up to the March 4 general elections, with constant infighting, painting a picture of a society that is pulling in different directions.

But the call by Justice Kwach for the purge on the Judiciary in 2003, stimulated a debate on the corridors of justice and on the floor of the Parliament. However, that is all it ever became, debate and nothing more.

Meanwhile cases against rogue lawyers who appear above the law continue to mount at the various disciplinary bodies; the advocates complaints committee and the disciplinary committee at LSK. 

The law society earlier this year issued out a code of conduct for its  advocates concerning dressing for court, but it seems more yet needs to be done in cleaning out its own profession for it to reclaim its coveted spot as the legal conscience of the country.

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