Race against time as lawyers fight to join exclusive club of Senior Counsel

Senior counsel Paul Muite

Lawyers wishing to join the prestigious committee of Senior Counsel have until January 31 to submit their applications to the Law Society of Kenya.

It will however not be easy for aspirants to join the exclusive club of advocates due to the tough conditions.

These conditions have seen only 26, out of more than 13,000 practising lawyers, enjoying the status of Senior Counsel since its inception in 2003.

The first group of Senior Counsel were appointed in the early days of former President Mwai Kibaki during the “radical surgery” to clean up the judiciary.

The law required the president to appoint a tribunal to investigate the then Chief Justice Bernard Chunga, and that a "Senior Counsel" had to sit in the tribunal. Kibaki then appointed all past LSK chairmen and gazetted them as SC.

The honorary title has similar privileges, rank and prestige of the Queens Counsel (QC) in the UK, and is one of the accolades every lawyer yearns to achieve in their careers.

A notice from LSK says one must have minimum 15 years' experience as an advocate, high integrity and unquestionable professional conduct.

Applicants must have contributed to scholarly writings within the legal profession to qualify for the award.

“The person must have not been convicted of any professional misconduct, has sound knowledge of law, must have argued a substantive precedent-setting case before a superior court or international court, must have undertaken community service and served the LSK in any capacity,” reads LSK's notice.

The title of Senior Counsel became popular during the hearing of the presidential election petition at the Supreme Court when NASA challenged re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta on August 8 last year.

The petition turned out to be a battle of wits between members of the exclusive club, with Orengo, Nowrojee, Wako and Omogeni, who were representing NASA, squaring it out with Muite, Ahmednassir, Prof Muigai and Kambuni, who was leading the defence for IEBC and President Uhuru.

Muite says a Senior Counsel does not only enjoy privileges but also helps mentor young lawyers.

“A Senior Counsel has to set example in the practice of law and assist in the administration of justice. The opinion of Senior Counsel on key legal issues ought to be taken seriously as is done across Commonwealth countries of which Kenya is a member,” said Muite.

New regulations, approved by former CJ Willy Mutunga in 2014, give Senior Counsel priority in court in whatever matter they are appearing.

The Advocates (Senior Counsel Conferment and Privileges) (Amendment) Rules, 2014 state a SC enjoys privileges of having their cases dealt with first in court or before tribunal.

“They have the prestige of appearing robed in court, with a gown and court sleeved waistcoat similar to Court of Appeal Judges,” the rules states.