By Nzau Musau |
February 18th 2018 at 11:30:14 GMT +0300
The battle for the soul of Law Society of Kenya (LSK) will be on the cards when lawyers go to the polls on Thursday, amid concerns that the once powerful society has lost its kick.
From a highly respected statutory body that once knocked the living daylights out of governments to a feeble institution now often brushed off even by third rate politicians, the fall of LSK has been epic.
So much so that a common joke in legal circles is that LSK need not act on any prospective public interest litigation matter since activist Okiya Omtata would beat them to it anyway.
Rather than look out to LSK for help whenever the State pushes them to the limits, the public is increasingly learning to trust Mr Omtata .
“It is time we moved to court to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law and seek the immediate return of Miguna Miguna. Let us not wait for Omtata to upstage us on this urgent matter,” lawyer Allen Gichuhi wrote to the society on February 7 in a passing acknowledgment of this joke.
Under its parent Act, the LSK Act 2014, the society is enjoined to uphold the Constitution and advance the rule of law and the administration of justice.
But in the last two years and under the watchful gaze of the present Council led by President Isaac Okero, the Jubilee government has made massive claw-back from post-2010 constitutional moment gains.
From weakened institutions to blurred constitutional lines and from passage of repressive laws to executive disregard of the courts, one could safely say the administration has encountered feeble resistance. Whenever LSK attempted to step in, it either did so when the thunder had been stolen from it or the intervention was botched by division within its ranks.
At the height of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s virulent attacks against the Supreme Court last year, LSK took him head on and urged him to cease the attacks. However, when a seething Jubilee sought to roll it over on Supreme Court registrar Esther Nyaiyaki, divisions afflicted the society.
While Okero wrote to Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) telling them they had no mandate to investigate the registrar, his deputy Faith Waigwa wrote asking them to ignore the letter as it did not reflect the council position on the matter.
“The council has been very slow in reacting to matters of national interests where the voice of lawyers is naturally expected. This has significantly reduced the institutional profile and prestige of LSK,” lawyer Peter Wanyama says.
According to Wanyama, Parliament does not take law reform proposals from the council seriously and has reduced lawyers to the level of any other stakeholder in the law making process.
“The robust enthusiasm and verve with which he Council was consulted on topical legal issues is no more. Institutions like Katiba Institute and Kituo Cha Sheria have much more spread presence than LSK. This must be reversed,” he says.
Former LSK Vice Chair Renee Omondi says the society is reeling from fruits of members’ desire for change. She says when her team was booted under a wave of “Okoa-LSK” change movement, few appreciated the commitment her council had to their mandate.
“They said they wanted change so we had to make way for the current team. A mix of divisive politics and inexperience brought us to where we are. I am however optimistic that with the right leadership from next week, we can recoup our lost ground,” she says.
What LSK needs right now, she says, are experienced hands to navigate it back on course. From her statement, it’s clear that she will vote in James Mwamu. “We have lost or have been slow over the last two years but we can redeem ourselves with the right leadership,” she says.
Nelson Havi is among lawyers who feel most frustrated by the inability of LSK to step in at critical moments. In the ensuing inaction, Havi found himself having to take up a number of matters the society ought to have taken up.
A stubborn candidate for the president’s position, Havi put up a campaign for restoring the lost glamour of the society. Twice, the society and the courts rejected his ticket on practicing age grounds.
“The current LSK council has underperformed. A faction of the council was beholden to the government leaving the president clueless and inept in his responsibilities,” he says.
Caroline Kamende Daudi is running for the position of Nairobi representative. She says the inefficiency of the current council has driven her to the edge and she’s out to make a difference. “I am not the complaining type. I am offering myself to make the difference I am yearning for. If they were efficient in delivering services to us, enhancing the capacity of the branches, promotion of welfare of members, I wouldn’t be running,” she says.
Many attribute the failure of the current council to their obsession with the controversial LSK Arbitration Centre project.
“They failed miserably because their only agenda was the arbitration centre and once it was over they had no other ideas. Even our monies were not refunded back,” lawyer Jemimah Keli says.
To give the devil his due, Wanyama says the current Council has performed better than the previous council on matters involving the practice of law.