Advocates from Rwanda and Burundi will be allowed to work in Kenya if Parliament adopts proposed changes to the law in line with the spirit of the East African Community (EAC).
Parliament proposed amendments to the Advocates Act, saying lawyers from the two countries qualify for similar treatment as their counterparts from Uganda and Tanzania.
Rwandan and Burundian advocates were in 2019 locked out from practising locally, a move that MPs say contravenes the spirit of the EAC.
“The Bill proposes to include an advocate of the High Court of Rwanda and an advocate of the High Court of Burundi as being eligible for admission as an advocate in Kenya,” the Bill reads in its memorandum.
The amendments if approved will change Section 12 of the Advocates Act, which currently only allows Ugandan and Tanzanian lawyers to practice in Kenya.
The Judiciary and the Council for Legal Education (CLE) have previously raised concerns on the lack of uniformity in the qualifications for admission to study law degree and to join the respective bars of the EAC member States.
The Judiciary and CLE told MPs there is a need to amend the Legal Education Act and the Kenya School of Law Act as well as clarify eligibility requirements for non-Kenyans who practice law in the EAC or the Commonwealth and beyond before seeking admission to practice law in Kenya.
The proposed changes come barely a month after the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee blocked Rwandan and Burundian lawyers from practising in Kenya until local advocates are allowed to work in the two countries on a reciprocal basis.
Kenyan lawyers, currently practising advocates in Rwanda had petitioned MPs to fast-track the inclusion of Rwanda and Burundi in the Advocates Act to enable the Chief Justice to swear and enrol practitioners from the two countries to practice in Kenya.
This is the second attempt by MPs to open the doors for lawyers from Rwanda and Burundi, coming nearly two years after the Court of Appeal struck out similar changes effectively locking out the two countries.
Parliament first opened the doors for lawyers from Rwanda and Burundi to practice in Kenya through the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendment) Act 2012, amended Section 12 and 13 of the Advocates Act but the Court of Appeal struck out the changes.
The Law Society of Kenya had opposed MPs’ move and sued the Attorney-General, arguing the amendment that opened up trade in legal services for non-Kenyans without reciprocal access for Kenyan advocates was a violation of Parliament’s legislative powers.