Brian Mwenda was recently arrested in Kenya for practicing law without a license. He was admitted to the Kenyan bar a year ago and earned the trust of many of his clients, claiming to have won 26 of his cases. He was practicing throughout this time under the assumed identity of a qualified lawyer with a similar name, who was the one who initially reported an irregularity with his account.
The scandal prompted a nationwide discussion about the importance of proper legal qualifications, and also brought attention to the issue of corruption in the Kenyan legal system.
The primary concern in this case is, of course, the ethical implication for his clients, one of whom was sentenced to 21 years in prison. They are also not the only victims of fake lawyers in Kenya – as the country is wrestling with rising inflation, skyrocketing fuel prices and tax hikes, so Kenya is seeing a surge in the number of unlicensed people acting as lawyers, possibly to make money quickly.
The Kenyan government has publicly condemned the actions of Brian Mwenda and is seeking to prosecute him, calling him a fugitive. In response to this, he has appeared in a video claiming he will present himself to the police soon.
The Kenyan Ministry of Justice has set up a task force to investigate the case and look into how similar situations can be avoided in the future. Kenyan law enforcement agencies have also taken steps to ensure that all lawyers practicing in the country are properly registered and qualified. The Kenyan government has tightened regulations regarding the registration of legal professionals in order to prevent fraud, and also launched an awareness campaign to inform citizens of the importance of verifying the credentials of any lawyer they may hire.
However, it is important to note that some people hailed Brian Mwenda as a hero, helping people who otherwise might not have been able to fight their case. He also defended himself by saying that it was ‘not just the text of the law that should count but the process’.
As discussed, Kenya is facing an economic crisis, which could be the reason for the surge in fake lawyers. However, to combat the issue, Kenya could increase the amount of legal education available to Kenyans, and require more stringent vetting procedures for those hoping to practice law in Kenya. It would also be useful to establish a process for reporting suspected fake lawyers on a country-wide basis.
The Law Society of Kenya is already taking steps to increase transparency in the legal profession and to make it easier for citizens to verify the credentials of their lawyers. Lawyers themselves must also take responsibility for ensuring that their qualifications are up-to-date and that they are meeting all necessary ethical standards.
This case has brought attention to several issues in Kenya including the economic crisis and holes in the legal system, and will hopefully prompt solutions to these. It is also important to consider the question this situation forces us to ask ourselves; namely, in Brian Mwenda’s words, if it is not just the text of the law that matters, but the process.
Here’s our round-up of questions to challenge you to look more deeply into this topic and help you prepare for any upcoming interviews:
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