There was a time; long ago, when the council of the Law Society of Kenya (LSK) was a non-partisan, conscientious and principled champion of the ordinary man’s legal interests. The council was at the forefront of the struggle for the reintroduction of Multi-Party Democracy and the expansion of democratic space.
When the LSK council spoke, Kenya and the world listened. Even its detractors and most ardent critics; though they may have disagreed with its positions, acknowledged that it was a fiercely independent and honourable institution.
A lot has changed since those days. Over time the council has abandoned its lofty position as the advocate of the public interest and descended into the dirt and mire of the political gladiatorial arena; becoming a combatant when it should have remained a neutral commentator. In doing so the council’s words have lost their once thunderous impact and its opinions are now taken as being representative only of particular partisan political interests.
The politicization of the council of the LSK is so acute that even the Supreme Court has taken judicial notice of it. The LSK’s application to act as amicus curiae before the Supreme Court during the just concluded presidential election petitions was emphatically rejected by the apex court; which found that the council was biased against some of the respondents in the petitions.
Let us pause for a moment and reflect on that finding. The highest court in the land rejected the participation of the statutory body meant to advance the public interest inside and outside of the courtroom in the most riveting court case in Kenyan history, because the court rightly felt that the council is biased against His Excellency Hon Uhuru Kenyatta (president) and His Excellency Hon William Ruto (deputy president). This is a damning indictment of how far the LSK has fallen from its once lofty position.
The LSK council has an important role to play in commentating on issues where law and politics intersect. However, the council must do so in a non-partisan and even handed manner. It is a betrayal of the noble role of the Law Society within our nation for the council to stoop to the level of the plethora of briefcase political NGOs, with their trademark proclivity for rushing to the media to spout whatever message their paymaster of the day wants propagated.
There has been a raft of major pieces of legislation that have been enacted which will fundamentally change the relationship between the citizens and the government. New laws on consumer protection, policing and public welfare have come into force and not elicited any comment from the LSK council. These areas are not as glamorous or as sensational as the political issues of the day but they are what actually affect the lives of ordinary Kenyans.
Has the LSK council made you aware of the new powers granted to police officers to search your private property without a warrant? Has the LSK council educated you on the new avenues of redress that consumers have regarding misleading advertising and sales promotions? No. Instead the council maintains a myopic fascination with grabbing headlines and acquiring celebrity status for the council members.
The LSK council is meant to advance the public interest, not merely what the public finds interesting. Its noble work is best done behind the scenes and away from the media limelight that the council’s members seem to crave so much.
The council must refrain from partisanship because it reduces the effectiveness of the LSK in advocating for the public interest and the rule of law. When the council expresses political favouritism it becomes unable to participate in the crucial court cases of the day or comment convincingly on divisive issues. This Council is so tainted by the colours of one particular political party that it simply has no credibility when it speaks on anything even remotely touching on politics.
Let the LSK return to its esteemed roots as the non-partisan advocate of the public interest. Let the council cease acting like the spokesperson for a particular end of the political spectrum.
Let the council divest itself of the mentality that in order to remain relevant in Kenyan society it must comment on every hotbed political issue, while remaining silent on the more pressing but unglamorous legal issues of the day. Let the council respect the diversity of political opinions held by its members.
Let the council not be an isolated and dictatorial unit that weighs in on every major political issue without seeking the opinion of the members. Let the LSK council reclaim its proper role in our country.
(Jasper Mbiuki, is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya and TNA’s Secretary for Legal Affairs firstname.lastname@example.org)