Sunday May 11 2014

The pains of unprincipled clients and lawyers

By Prof George W. Kanyeihamba

Since resuming law practice after retirement from the Supreme Court, I have met and interacted with people who have no scruples. There have been litigants who present to their lawyers forged land titles or falsified agreements on all sorts of transactions in the belief that the lawyers will work miracles or use tricks to score judicial victories in favour of these unscrupulous clients.

This columnist believes that law practice is a noble profession and should be founded on truth, transparency, facts and the law. After many potential clients discover who I am, they promise to go and think before hiring my services. They then do not return. I subsequently meet some of them in courts with other lawyers.

Stories are told of how some lawyers advise my potential clients not to hire my services and give false reasons for the advice.

There was this potential client who presented a forged will indicating that he and his sister were the only heirs and survivors of their late father. Our firm wrote to different people to account and handover the property of the deceased to these two siblings.

Another lawyer acting for one of the people, who received our letter, produced a genuine will indicating that the deceased was survived by two widows and seven children. He had equitably distributed his property amongst his dependants and neither of our potential clients was related to the deceased.

While Minister of Commerce, I discovered a lawyer using Letters of Administration of his client as a High Court order that authorised him to evict innocent tenants from his client’s premises following a disagreement between the parties about increased rent. After discovering the irregularity, I stopped the eviction.

When I questioned the lawyer concerned, he unashamedly remarked that with these uneducated people, any document stamped with a court seal will do to achieve one’s client’s wishes. Later, that same lawyer became a government minister and has survived all reshuffles. Unfortunately, his name appears in the Press from time to time accused of wrong- doing.
During my practice this time round, I have met and dealt with lawyers who are publicly held in high esteem.

Disturbingly, I have also discovered that each of them has on occasions dishonestly acted for both parties on either side of a transaction or dispute. Inevitably, the danger of favouring and cheating one of the duped clients at the expense of the other is real.
The list of transgregations in the legal and other professions is long, distressing and unending. Take the case of the so called land valuers. The value of any given piece of land depends on whether it is the vendor or the purchaser who hires the evaluation services.

I once sought an opinion from a well-known wealthy Ugandan who advised that no one should take Uganda land valuers seriously because their findings and evaluations are not worth the papers they are written on. He also remarked that only the market principles of demand and supply are accurate and one should rely on those rather than on the so called expert valuers.

The thefts of land titles and their transfers on other forged documents are the worst examples of legal thefts in this country. Knowing that land is a most valued and much sought after commodity in Uganda. Land Law should protect parties beyond the lawyers’ fiction of a bona fide purchaser for value without notice which has lately been much abused by some unscrupulous lawyers.

It should be best legally protected asset in Uganda. Unfortunately, the reverse is true. Over the years, land titles and parcels of land have become the easiest commodities to steal, sell and transfer cheaply as if they were perishable goods in the Shauriyako or Kikuubo markets. The den of land thieves is financially and corruptly guarded by the officials and operators in the Ministry of Lands and Urban Development. Painful cries of foul play in that ministry have gone on unabated for a long time.

In recent times, such illegal land transactions have become common news and reported in the media generally. Unfortunately, the people who should offer protection to innocent citizens have been at best sluggish and at worst corroborators.

Experts on land, land use and development have researched into the land question, produced detailed reports and recommendations as to how to combat the scourges of land grabbing but those who receive these recommendations with capacity and authority to make radical changes, have miserably failed to do so. One day, it will not be political disputes but grievances about land grabbing and the negligence of the public authorities’ failure to act that will politically rock Uganda.

Prof Kanyeihamba is a retired Supreme Court judge.