Former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and Kibaki-era Justice Minister Martha Karua are among the more than 20 lawyers selected for conferment of the rank of senior counsel.
The names will be forwarded to Chief Justice David Maraga who will then transmit the same to President Uhuru Kenyatta for gazetting. Once the names are gazetted, the 24 lawyers who have been selected by the Senior Counsel Committee will join the exclusive club of senior lawyers in the country.
Other prominent names on the list are Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Dorcas Oduor, renowned family lawyer Judy Thongori, the former chief executive of the defunct Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) Patricia Nyaundi, Kioko Kilikumi, renowned arbitrator John Ohaga and former Director of Public Prosecutions Philip Murgor.
Also on the list are Rautta Athiambo, who was recently inducted into the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) Roll of Honour, veteran lawyer Fred Ngatia, Wilfred Nderitu, who is remembered for having represented victims at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the case against Deputy President William Ruto, Prof Albert Mumma, Pravin Bowry, the former Assistant Director (Legal Services) of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACCA), and John Chigiti, among others.
LSK began sending out notification letters to successful applicants on September 19, after the Senior Counsel Committee completed vetting the 90 applicants who applied for consideration.
“The committee at its meeting held on August 26, 2019 considered your application. We are pleased to inform you that your application was successful,” part of the letter sent to the successful applicants reads.
Members of the Senior Counsel Committee are Justice Mohamed Ibrahim, representing the Supreme Court, Justice Martha Koome, representing the Court of Appeal, Justice Jacqueline Kamau, representing the High Court, three representatives of senior counsels, namely Omesh Kapila, Patricia Kameri-Mbote and Lucy Kambuni, three representatives of the Law Society of Kenya (LSK), namely Lillian Renee-Omondi, Nicholus Bichanga and LSK president Allen Gichuhi, and the Attorney General Paul Kihara.
The selection of the 24 means that 66 other applicants will have to bide their time for the next round of selection, whenever that might be.
Before the current selections, there had been a seven-year gap since anyone was conferred the title of a senior counsel. The last time the title was conferred was in 2012.
Some of the big names who have missed out are LSK president Allen Gichuhi, former LSK president Eric Mutua, former East Africa Law Society president James Mwamu and Prof Ben Sihanya, among others. Mr Gichuhi’s omission had everything to do with his being a member of the selection committee.
The nomination of the 24 lawyers to join the exclusive club of senior lawyers in the country will raise the number of senior counsels. As currently published on LSK website, there are only 26 members of this exclusive club of lawyers. But some members on the list, like Joe Okwach and Mutula Kilonzo, have passed on over the years. Mr Okwach died in July 2017 while Mr Kilonzo died in 2013. It means the number could rise to 48 excluding the two deceased.
The number of women holding that rank will also go up from the current four. Before the new selections, the four women who were members of the exclusive club are Prof Kameri-Mbote, Ms Kambuni, Joyce Majiwa and Defence Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo.
The title of Senior Counsel is conferred on eminent lawyers and is considered the zenith of professional achievement for having irreproachable professional lives. It is similar to the Queen’s Counsel in the British legal system.
The privileges enjoyed by such a lawyer is not clearly stated. In fact, The Advocates (Senior Counsel Conferment And Privileges) Rules, 2011 states that besides one using the designation of Senior Counsel or its abbreviation, SC, any other privileges have been left to LSK Council to determine.
Over the years, the LSK has been extending courtesies like giving holders of the designation precedence in addressing the court, save for the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions.
They also sit at the front of the Bench (judges and magistrates), sometimes in an area separate from the general area.
The implicit benefit of the designation, however, is that it could open avenues for more business as holders are deemed of high professional integrity and experience.