Lawyers who had early this year applied to be considered for the prestigious position of Senior Counsel are in for a long wait after the selection process ran into lengthy judicial headwinds.
The exercise, which was expected to be concluded by October, hit a snag when a group of lawyers moved to court to contest the manner in which it was being handled.
Speaking to People Daily, former Law Society of Kenya (LSK) chairperson Fred Ojiambo who heads a panel that vets legal practitioners seeking admission to Senior Counsel status, said the matter had been grounded by a judicial intervension.
“Our hands are tied at the moment. The matter is currently in court and, therefore, there is nothing we can do. We have to wait until the matter is heard and determined,” said Ojiambo.
In what was then seen as a swift reaction aimed at stemming growing discontent among Kenya’s legal fraternity over the delayed admission of more members into the exclusive club of barristers LSK had on January 5 asked qualified lawyers to submit their applications for consideration.
LSK told candidates to hand in their documents by January 31 and outlined a list of seven criteria in which potential applicants were to meet, pursuant to Rule 7 Advocates (Senior Counsel Conferment and Privileges) Rules, 2011.
For one to be considered, one has to be an active legal practitioner and undertakes training of other members of the legal profession, should have argued a substantive matter before a superior, regional and international court, has actively served LSK among other requirements. .
However, on February 21, six lawyers went to the Constitutional and Human Rights Division of the High Court to challenge the requirement.
Petitioners Jacqueline Manani, Ben Sihanya, Anne Cherono Konuche, Ekaterina Muok Handa, Mercy Wanjiku Kareithi and Everlyne Musamni Ngalaka say the ctiteria set by the Committee on Senior Counsel was contrary to the provisions section 17 of the Advocates Act and discriminates against lawyers who ordinarily do not practice law as litigation advocates.
“The rule discriminates against law lecturers, in-house counsel of various organisations including the office of the Attorney-General, government departments and ministries as corporates and advocates whose practice ordinarily involves conveyancing and commercial law,” said the plaintiffs.
Earlier, some lawyers had told People Daily that they were of the view that future recruitment of Senior Counsel be pegged on practice longetivity of at least 25 years.
“It is very embarrassing when we go to court and witness our grey-haired seniors who have practised law for more than 50 years dozing in their seats as they await matters being handled by their much younger and inexperienced colleagues to be attended to first simply because the youthful lawyers are Senior Counsel,” a long-serving lawyer observed.
LSK’s decision to invite lawyers to apply for Senior Counsel positions came after reported mounting disquiet permeated the legal fraternity over the composition of the current Senior Counsel membership and the long delay in admitting new ones.
Since its establishment in 2003, the apex category of senior lawyers in Kenya has so far incorporated only 31 members, with five of them having already passed away.
Some of the top legal personalities who have not been elevated to Senior Counsel include Kenya’s first Attorney-General Charles Njonjo, former Justice Minister Martha Karua, Prof PLO Lumumba, Philip Murgor, Kioko Kilukumi, Prof Yash Pal Ghai and Judy Thongori.
The current list of Kenya’s Senior Counsel comprises of Prof Githu Muigai, James Orengo, Paul Muite, Willy Mutunga, Fred Ngatia, Ahmednasir Abdullahi, Amos Wako, Keriako Tobiko and Raychelle Omamo.