The Rwanda Bar Association has refuted allegations that Kenya is preventing Rwandan lawyers from practicing there due to the lack of a reciprocal agreement between the two countries allowing Kenyan lawyers to work in Rwanda.
This comes after media reported that Kenya had barred Rwandan and Burundian lawyers from practicing in the country until Kenyan lawyers are allowed to work in both countries on a reciprocal basis.
According to Julien Kavaruganda, president of the Bar of Rwanda, “reciprocity does indeed exist” between the two countries and Kenyan lawyers are authorized to practice in Rwanda.
Kavaruganda said: “The problem is that Kenyans are questioning the curriculum of our Institute of Legal Practice and Development (ILDP), compared to the Kenya School of Law. In Rwanda, to practice, you must hold a law degree and an ILDP diploma.
“In Kenya and Uganda they have the common law system and we had the civil law system. Ours today is a sort of improved hybrid system that merges the good features of both systems. By questioning our ILDP program, we told them, they are obstructing the free movement protocol to which they are signatories.
According to the law establishing the bar association in Rwanda, which stipulates the conditions that Rwandans must fulfill in order to practice the profession of lawyer in the country, a foreigner can also be authorized to practice the profession of lawyer under conditions reciprocity or in accordance with international agreements to which Rwanda is a party.
Article 7 of the law stipulates that when their national legislation provides for reciprocity and subject to international agreements, lawyers from foreign bars benefit from the right to practice when necessary, provided that they comply with the regulations governing the profession. lawyer in Rwanda.
He adds: “The President of the Bar Association has the power to grant this authorization. Lawyers from states that have entered into a regional integration agreement with Rwanda are permitted to practice in Rwanda in accordance with that regional integration agreement.
According to Kavaruganda, the problem is most likely caused by “people who harbor protectionist tendencies and who misinform” Kenyan politicians.
He said: ‘We are sure that if politicians knew reciprocity existed, they would not move to stop the free flow of legal services.’
The Treaty Establishing the East African Community (EAC) promotes the free movement of goods, persons, workers, services and capital between partner states without any form of discrimination. However, the implementation of the EAC Treaty and its protocols often encounters resistance from partner states for various reasons, including political tensions between some of them.
In the middle of last year, a local NGO took Uganda to a regional court for refusing Rwandan-trained lawyers to register and practice in Uganda.
On June 30, 2020, Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (iPeace), a non-governmental organization registered in Rwanda, notified the Attorney General of Uganda of a case it filed in the Court of Justice of East Africa (EACJ) against the Attorney General of Uganda for refusing Rwandan-trained lawyers to register and practice law in Uganda.
Rwanda, noted Kavaruganda, has its doors open to defenders and fellow citizens of the EAC where reciprocity is assured.
Moving forward, Kavaruganda said, EAC partner states should adopt a harmonized work permit issuance system for professionals, including lawyers in the region, as has been done for engineers. The problem centers on the lack of mutual recognition of qualifications, he noted.
“We need a mutual recognition agreement to have a free movement policy for lawyers in the region.”
The East African Law Society, the regional bar association for East Africa, he said, will be meeting later this month and “we hope that will help resolve the issue”.
Recognize the qualifications guaranteed by the common market protocol
With over 17,000 members comprising all national bars in the region, the East African Law Society aims to accelerate the integration of East African communities through targeted support to cross-border trade, the legal profession, to civil societies, business and governments.
David Singano, the CEO of EALS, told The New Times that the regional bar “is preparing a statement on this particular issue.”
He added: “We are consulting and working closely with our sister bar associations at the national level to ensure that partner states recognize qualifications in the legal practice of other countries, as guaranteed by the common market protocol.”
“The Mutual Recognition Agreement for Stalled Lawyers is also being reviewed for signature. Once signed, it will provide a framework for the recognition of qualifications from other countries.
According to Singano, there are also discussions to resuscitate the Cross-Border Legal Practice Bill in the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA).
EALS and national bars have, since 2012, been at the forefront of the negotiation process to present a framework governing cross-border legal practice within the Community under the Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) .
The agreement which aims to allow cross-border legal practice in the region so far has not been signed by the bloc’s attorneys general.