Sunday April 20 2014

The lawyers of yesterday and of today are a great contrast

By Prof George W. Kanyeihamba

Whenever His Grace Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, England and I meet, he cheerfully greets me with the words, “Law is not everyone’s posho”.
Those were the first remarks I uttered to my pioneer law students at Makerere when the then Department of Law in the faculty of Social Sciences, headed by Prof Ali Mazrui as dean, started teaching law.

There were only two full time teaching staff, the late Prof Joseph Kakooza and this columnist. We were assisted by distinguished part-timers like former Chief Justices, George Japheth Masika and Samuel Wako Wambuzi, Attorneys Generals, Mugerwa, Matovu, Nkambo Mathew, the late Justice Joseph Mulenga, Arthur Oder and several practitioners. We were later joined by the likes of James Obol Ochola, Joseph Byamugisha, Ibrahim Kiapi and John Katende, to mention but a few.
The lecturers then devoted their full time in researching and publishing law. In those days, law was regarded as a noble learned profession designed mainly to give service to the population at large besides doing other tasks.

In the recently held Annual General Meeting of the Uganda Law Society, I heard a chorus from many speakers advocating, very strongly, that law is now big business intended to enrich its practitioners first and then their clients second and that unless advocates master the tricks and cunning manners of businessmen and women they will remain poor and unimportant in the modern world.

Then I recalled one rich lawyer of questionable integrity who deliberately told a lie to force me to disqualify myself in a Supreme Court case which he feared my participation would not be in the interests of his client’s. I disqualified myself not because what he alleged was true but because of my belief that not only must justice be done, it must be seen to be done. I thought that many readers and listeners who heard this advocate use the trick of lies to have me disqualify myself may have believed him.

So having stated that he was lying, I nevertheless disqualified myself and my decision was held by the New Vision newspaper as the act and behaviour of a principled judge of integrity who should be emulated by other judges. Several other judges disqualified themselves before I did and have since done so, but unfortunately this kind of judge is rare these days.

Coincidentally, I later met the advocate who had lied to force me disqualify myself. We sat next to each other at a social function and he looked at me and smiled, saying: “No hard feelings, My Lord. You are living in ancient times, today, law is big business and we must adopt the cunning and manipulating ways of successful and rich business people otherwise, we shall sink into poverty. We know your principles.

They are good but do not bring bread on the table”. Unfortunately, for his client, this was the Supreme Court where my replacement and my colleagues on the panel were principled and impartial to the extent that even without me, the Supreme Court gave the correct judgment in favour of the litigant who was opposing this lawyer’s client.

In law, every time an incompetent or corruptible lawyer fails to represent his or her client properly, the client loses and those who are guilty are subsequently declared innocent or winners. Every time a partisan or incompetent judicial officer messes up a case, it is innocent litigants who lose heavily in rights, interests, goods and reputation. Even in cases where suits are eventually won or appeals proffered, a great deal of anxiety and loss of money and time are lost by innocent litigants who eventually suffer from unwarranted stress.

I have witnessed lawyers presenting doctored or forged documents in order to score victories in court. I have heard about advocates who steal or buy vital pages from court files in order to argue afterwards that such pages do not exist and therefore their clients should be acquitted or awarded judgments. Many such cases have been diligently reported to the appropriate authorities who have urged to act on these disgraceful incidents of injustice in Uganda. For a variety of reasons and iniquities, these authorities have miserably let down Ugandans and feared or neglected to act.

Advocates and judicial officers who are the cause of this havoc should thoroughly be investigated and if found guilty be removed from our legal system forever. Since they pride themselves in being business people, such removal would release their energies to do even better in the ups and downs of the business world in which our Lord Jesus Christ divinely observed that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

Prof Kanyeihamba is a retired Supreme Court judge.