Sunday, February 9, 2014

TIME HAS COME FOR LSK TO DEAL HARSHLY WITH CROOKED LAWYERS

Now that the Law Society of Kenya has completed its bitterly contested elections and new officials are in office, time has come to focus on one issue lawyers loathe to talk about - misconduct in their profession.

Like all other sectors in Kenya - a country considered to be at the top layer of the most corrupt nations in the world - the legal fraternity has had its share of ignominy. Learned friends have been caught stealing clients' money; engaging in fraudulent activities; and even practicing illegally with suspended or expired certificates.

Every year, thousands of complaints pour into the offices of the Advocates Complaints' Committee from angry clients complaining about misbehaving advocates. Two years ago, LSK announced 44 lawyers had been struck off the Advocates' roll for professional misconduct - embezzling money and going against the professional code of ethics; and 28 others had been suspended pending investigations.

In the past year, the LSK disciplined not less that five lawyers for filing election petitions without valid practising certificates. Because of the recklessness of those lawyers, a number of election petitioners lost their cases, thus dashing their political aspirations.

Even some of those appointed to the Bench as Magistrates and High Court judges have been netted. In the vetting exercise by the Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board, a number of them have been sacked or retired after failing the ethics test.

These bad apples have, and continue to tarnish the reputation and good name of the legal profession.

A day before the LSK polls, P.L.O. Lumumba - one of the most respected legal minds in the country and a former anti-corruption guru - sent a letter to the LSK drawing its attention to cases of bribery by candidates seeking office. Lumumba said he had received materials under the guise of Christmas and New Year greetings and an SMS inviting him to a "sumptuous lunch."

Lumumba said they had engaged in bribery to influence the membership to vote for them. He wanted the culprits barred, but a senior LSK official dismissed reports of free lunches, travel perks and cash hand-outs as nothing but "rumours."

The only other voice I heard making similar complaints was of lawyer George Kegoro. I wondered where the usual anti-corruption critics and non-governmental organisation mandarins were. Where were they when all this was happening?  Why didn't they come out to support Lumumba in what were truly genuine concerns

I have always thought corruption was corruption regardless of who perpetrated it. The same force applied against corrupt government officials must be brought to bear on deviant lawyers.

That is why I have nothing but praise for Lumumba and Kegoro for being candid and bold We need fearless people like them to get things corrected. The new LSK officials should not bury their heads in the sand on a matter as important as this. The youthful leadership must be courageous enough to deal more harshly with crooked lawyers.

Chairman Eric Mutua - the 46th in the history of the legal body that started with Humphrey Slade in 1949 - must find a way of nailing down such people. Having a Code of Conduct is one thing. Effectively implementing it is another.

My view is that Mutua can only guarantee his legacy in the LSK if he can restore the fading image of the legal profession and bring back the glory of an organisation whose mandate is to "assist members of the legal profession, the government and the larger public in all matters pertaining to the administration of justice in Kenya."

The LSK membership of 7,000 must help him achieve that goal.

And that is my say.