Overhaul admissions to tighten lawyers’ training and conduct

Tuesday November 7 2017

Law Society of Kenya

Law Society of Kenya President Isaac Okero speaks during a media briefing on crackdown of civil society. He was speaking to reporters at the society’s office in Nairobi on August 16, 2017. Legal regulators should look into selections into the universities and the School of Law. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By NICHOLAS SUMBA
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Orders issued by High Court Judge John Mativo recently recommending a study and audit of the high number of students failing examinations at the Kenya School of Law should lead to a review of the admissions system.

The regulators should look into selections into the universities and the School of Law.

It should also be a wake-up call for the legal regulators to have a fresh look at integrity and maintenance of professional, ethical standards of advocates after admission to the bar.

ETHICS
As a representative of the African Bar Association, I attended the International Conference of Legal Regulators (ICLR) in Singapore on October 4 and 5.

While there, I met a high-powered Kenyan delegation led by Law Society of Kenya president Isaac Okero and secretary Mercy Wambua.

Also in the entourage was the Council of Legal Education’s representative, Senior Counsel Fred Ojiambo, the chairman of the Advocates Complaints Commission, Mr Beauttah Siganga, and chairman of Kenya Law Reform Commission, Mr Mbage Nganga.

They discussed the challenges faced in legal regulation in Kenya, prompting the setting up of a government task force whose key mandate is to overhaul all the laws relating to the legal regulatory framework from the qualification of students in universities to their admission to the Kenya School of Law and the maintenance of ethical standards after admission to the bar.

OFFENCES

There was a lot to learn at the conference, which left me wondering whether we even have a proper regulatory framework in Kenya.

We seem to concentrate more on the traditional areas of misappropriation, withholding and theft of clients’ money.

These are equally serious offences, but we shy away from issues to do with integrity, ethical standards and misconduct of advocates while presenting cases in court.

In other jurisdictions, this is taken very seriously and attracts severe disciplinary action.

CRIMINAL CONDUCT
In Singapore, lateness of advocates in court, and seeking adjournments on the basis of being engaged in other courts attract stern disciplinary action.

They can lead to an advocate being struck off the roll, the reasoning being that they should take up only matters they can handle.

In England, the conviction of an advocate in a criminal court on a serious offence warrants automatic removal from the roll of advocates to which one can never be reinstated as advocates take the oath to uphold the rule of law and criminal conduct is inexcusable.

An advocate who deliberately misleads a court while handling a case before it, a rampant practice Kenyan lawyers easily get away with, is a very serious offence in the English and Singaporean jurisdictions.

EDUCATION

I hope the Kenyan team will adopt and incorporate in the task force report some of the international best practices learnt from the Singapore conference.

This way, the questions in Judge Mativo’s orders would eventually be answered, the general perception being that the quality of training of lawyers seems to have been compromised as university education has been commercialised.

There is more competition for numbers than quality, which numbers have become unmanageable.

FOREIGN STUDENTS
The task force should seal all the loopholes to give our courts an easy time to deal with cases without compromising quality and interfering with the running of the Kenya School of Law as has been the case whenever cases filed by students in court are determined.

A matter the task force should address is a decision by the High Court to allow foreign students at the Kenya School of Law to be admitted as advocates in Kenya while the other East African countries are very protective of their own.

Indeed, cross-border practice is a no-go zone for Kenyan advocates in the other member states.

Opening the window for foreigners to practise could open a floodgate.

Mr Sumba an advocate of the High Court of Kenya. [email protected]