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Rwanda Bar Association has refuted claims that Kenya is blocking Rwandan lawyers from practicing there because of a lack of a reciprocity arrangement between the two countries that allows Kenyan lawyers to work in Rwanda.
This comes after media reports indicated that Kenya has blocked Rwanda and Burundi lawyers from practicing in the country until Kenyan advocates are allowed to work in the two countries on a reciprocal basis.
According to Julien Kavaruganda, president of Rwanda Bar Association, “reciprocity actually exists” between the two countries and Kenyan lawyers are allowed to practice in Rwanda.
Kavaruganda said: “The problem is that the Kenyans question the programme of our Institute of Legal Practice and Development (ILDP), compared to the Kenya School of Law. In Rwanda, for one to practice, they must have a degree in law plus an ILDP diploma.
“In Kenya and Uganda, they have the common law system and we had the civil law system. Ours, today, is a kind of improved hybrid system that merges the good provisions of both systems. By questioning our ILDP programme, we have told them, they are obstructing the protocol of free movement which they are signatories to.”
According to the law establishing the Bar Association in Rwanda which stipulates requirements Rwandans must fulfill to be eligible to practice as advocates in the country, a foreigner may also be allowed to practice the Advocates’ profession on condition of reciprocity or in accordance with international agreements to which Rwanda is a party.
Article 7 of the law states that where their national legislation provides for reciprocity and subject to international agreements, Advocates from foreign Bar Associations shall be granted the right to practice if need be, provided they observe the regulations governing the Advocates’ profession in Rwanda.
It adds: “The President of the Bar Association shall have the power to grant such authorisation. Advocates from States which have concluded a regional integration agreement with Rwanda shall be allowed to practice in Rwanda as provided for in such regional integration agreement.”
According to Kavaruganda, the problem is most likely being brought about by “people harboring protectionism leanings and who are misinforming” Kenyan politicians.
He said: “We are sure that if the politicians knew that reciprocity exists, they would not move to stop the free movement of legal services.”
The Treaty for the establishment of the East African Community (EAC) promotes free movement of goods, persons, workers, services and capital between partner states without any kind of discrimination. However, implementation of the EAC Treaty and its protocols often encounters resistance from partner states for various reasons including political tensions between some of them.
Mid last year, a local NGO dragged Uganda to a regional court for denying lawyers trained in Rwanda from enrolling and practicing in Uganda.
The Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (iPeace), a Rwanda-registered Non-Governmental Organization on June 30, 2020 notified the Attorney General of Uganda about a case it filed before the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) against the Attorney General of Uganda for denying lawyers trained in Rwanda from enrolling and practicing law in Uganda.
Rwanda, Kavaruganda noted, has its doors open to advocates and fellow EAC citizens where reciprocity is ensured.
As a way forward, Kavaruganda said, EAC partner states should embrace a harmonised system of issuing work permits for professionals including lawyers within the region, as has been done for engineers. The problem centers on a lack of mutual recognition of qualifications, he noted.
“We need a mutual recognition agreement to have a free movement policy for lawyers within the region.”
The East African Law Society, the apex regional bar Association of East Africa, he said, is going to meet later this month and “we hope that it will help address the issue.”
Recognize qualifications as guaranteed under Common Market Protocol
With more than 17,000 members comprising all the national bars from the region, the East African Law Society aims to fast track the integration of East African communities through targeted support to cross-border commerce, the legal profession, civil societies, business communities and governments.
David Singano, the EALS CEO, told The New Times that the regional bar is “preparing a statement on this particular matter.”
He added: “We are consulting and working closely with our sister bar associations at the national level to have Partner States recognize qualifications in legal practice from other countries as guaranteed under the Common Market Protocol.”
“The stalled Mutual Recognition Agreement for Lawyers is also being reviewed in readiness for signature. Once it’s signed it will provide a framework for recognition of qualifications from other countries.”
According to Singano, there are also discussions towards resuscitating the Cross Border Legal Practice Bill at the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA).
The EALS and national Bar Associations have, since 2012, been at the forefront of steering the process of negotiations to present a framework governing cross-border legal practice within the Community under the Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA).
The agreement which aims at enabling cross-border legal practice in the region up to now remains unsigned by Attorneys General of the bloc.
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