Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Law Society: Stuck in the past.

Despite the Law Society of Kenya Act (No. 21 of 2014), the Law Society is a caricature of a Bar association stuck in a colonial world; the only new thing is a change in titles. The statutory scheme contemplated by the LSK Act retains the hide-bound ideas of the repealed Act, the colonial sensibilities inherited by the Black Bar, and the centralisation of power beloved by fascists and Ugandan despots. There is nothing innovative about the Act or the Society. In many respects the Law Society apes the mindset of the mandarins that keep the lights on in Harambee House, the place where ideas go to die and where the asylum is no longer under the control of the medical staff.

And like a fascist government, the Law Society is enamoured of the accouterments of power: a council; a loyal hatchet man (Secretary/CEO); white elephants (IAC); regular "elections"; titles, titles, TITLES (Mr President!); obsequious obedience from the serfs—sorry, members. Crucially, like all fascist governments, it is bereft of ideas and in a slow decline, enlivened, every now and then by half-measures such as Act No. 21 of 2014.

If this was an isolated thing, I would let it go. But looking at the "manifestos" of the candidates for President of the Council, I fear we are about to enter the accelerating lane in the continued decline of the Law Society. I just saw a candidate from the wayward town of Nakuru marshalling the advocates in Nakuru to sign a petition to have the Chief Justice of Kenya and President of the Supreme Court removed from office because, among other things, the Chief Justice has not "posted enough land and environment judges to Nakuru". This prompted the Secretary/CEO to wade in with "this is a cheap publicity stunt when you are seeking an elective position in LSK". These are the major issues of the day being addressed by the Society and the more ambitious members seeking titles and the offices that come with titles.

Members should consider whether they need a national Bar association, run from the centre, having outposts managed by loyalists unwilling to rock the boat in case they fall out of favour with "the president." Isn't time, in the spirit of devolution, for the Law Society to lead the way again? The fascist centralisation of power has engendered controversies, the latest being the IAC but the way be charted by the pro-government/anti-government law suits of the 1990s. If the Law Society wasn't one central bar association, but several bar association, perhaps based on the branches, white elephants like the IAC wouldn't crop up, unless the several bar associations' members wanted it in the first place. But in the centralised commissariat that is the Council of the Law Society, the voice of the entire membership was not heard as the Council cooked up this monstrosity that is the IAC.

It is time to break up the Law Society and promote more localism to reflect the changes in Kenya. It has proven impossible for the Council to adequately address the professional needs of 8,000 advocates, pandering to the whims of the members from Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu at the expense of the rest. The professional standards should be common across all bar associations, and there is no reason why advocates from Wajir or West Pokot or Kapenguria or Kibwezi should be held hostage to the diktats of the commissars in Nairobi under the thumb of "the president." That no candidate for office has considered this is not surprising; after all, many of them were commissars at one time or the other. Every now and then English homilies hit home: you really can't teach an old dog new tricks.

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