Last week, the East Africa Law Society held the 24th Annual Conference with the aim of embracing the rule of law across the region. The conference brought together ‘Learned Friends’ from Six Partner States. The rule of law is a glorious tradition that ought to be immensely upheld. And where there’s the rule of law, justice is effectively administered. And, as a principle, justice should be seen to be done.
Among others, the East Africa Law Society (EALS) commits to advocating for effective implementation of EAC instruments. But, what’s the East Africa Law Society to begin with?
The East Africa Law Society is the apex regional bar Association of East Africa jointly founded in 1995 by a group of Lawyers with the support of the leadership of the national Bar Associations of the member states. Its membership stretches over 17,000 lawyers and comprises of all the national bars in the East African Community, such as the Law Society of Kenya, Tanganyika Law Society, Uganda Law Society, Zanzibar Law Society, Rwanda Bar Association, Burundi Bar Association and the South Sudan Bar Association. The membership is both institutional as well as individual.
By and large, the East Africa Law Society promotes the profession and build the capacity of lawyers in the region through training. Additionally, EALS shores up a respectable source of information on governance, rule of law, EAC integration, constitutionalism, human rights among others.
When the ‘Learned Friends’ meet in a conference, it’s a window to develop a network of colleagues capable of providing valuable insights and support in their career. This particularly opens up a couple of opportunities, including sharing experiences and skills to plead certain cases, gaining knowledge of legal systems applicable in their respective countries, synergizing efforts for advocacy for needed legislative changes, forming a stronger voice in the region, continuing legal education, keeping abreast about the latest legal developments, promoting one’s legal services across the region, among others.
Indeed, networking is important for long-term success. For example, in society today, we have social media, texting and videoconferencing. These do not substitute for the personal contact, attention and commitment necessary for building lasting relationships. When you ask any successful lawyer how he or she built a practice, and you’ll hear, it’s all about relationships. The success of a law firm depends on maintaining and expanding relationships with other lawyers as well as clients. When you raise your profile via writing articles or presenting in conferences, that’s a form of networking. It also enhances your reputation and the reputation of your firm.
President Kagame, while addressing the delegates, urged lawyers to constantly defend human rights as well as the rule of law. In this regard, President Kagame urged lawyers to play a crucial role for the survival of the regional integration.
More importantly, President Kagame reiterated that lawyers have also a role to hold governments accountable. He also urged lawyers not to be limited by geographic boundaries, but to practice everywhere in the region. On this note, he supported commitment to mutual recognition agreement, allowing lawyers to practice freely in all Partner States. In fact, this freedom stems from the cardinal principles of EAC Common Market Protocol. In contrast, when a lawyer wants to practice in another partner state he’s required to partner with a local lawyer or law firm, as a precondition. It’s an unfair hindrance limiting lawyers to benefit from available regional opportunities.
What about the East African Court of Justice (EACJ)?
Under the EAC Treaty, EACJ, a judicial arm of the East African Community, has a principal mandate of ensuring the law is adhered to in the interpretation and application of the EAC Treaty. To put it simply, the Court entertains matters from EAC which are in violation of the EAC instruments. In so doing, it upholds the rule of law, observance of democratic principles, and good governance.
It’s quite noteworthy that the EAC integration process is people-centric and private-sector driven. To achieve this goal, the core values, such the rule of law, observance of democratic principles, and good governance must be at the forefront. This Court [EACJ] has a cardinal role to embrace these universal values of a democratic society.
The EACJ has a threefold role: to decide, in accordance with treaty, rules of procedures, and perhaps other principles of international law, on contentious matters arising out within the meaning of Article 27, paragraph 1, of the Treaty, to give an advisory opinion in accordance with Article 36 of the Treaty and, finally, to entertain arbitral matters in accordance with Article 32 of the Treaty and rules of arbitration.
With respect to arbitration, under the Court’s rules of arbitration, Rule 8 provides that the appointing authority shall appoint, from among the Judges of the Court a panel to constitute the Tribunal to conduct the arbitral proceedings, unless the parties have agreed on a Sole Arbitrator who, in the like manner, shall be appointed from among the Judges of the Court.
Most interestingly, no costs for arbitrators. Thus, it is an ideal opportunity for EAC citizens to take advantage.
The writer is a law expert.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.