An interesting post on social media regarding the work of lawyers and what it takes to be considered one caught attention recently, although the post may have been published earlier on in the year.
By definition lawyers are meant to be “legal experts” – people who are qualified by profession in abstract theories and knowledge to help solve disputes that so often threaten the peace and harmonious wellbeing of a society or group of societies. Others spend time drafting all kinds of legal documents and instruments which dictate how individuals, or a group should behave or act within the confines of a social relationship; all for the same noble goals.
Due to the importance placed on the role of lawyers, justice demands that we the citizenry have access to good lawyers; those who would and should have spent years studying and learning to become proficient in their craft. In our mind lawyers must be those who have persevered and endured an educational process; from law school to Legal Training Institute (LTI), and then some years of working under the tutelage of seniors.
These past weeks have no doubt been interesting with the citizenry made to wait in suspense over the fate of their Government, whose future was clearly at the mercy of the Appeal Court.
The reason the outcome was what it was, was in no small part due to the critical role lawyers played – both for the appellants and the respondents in the case to ensure that the judges reached the right conclusions.
However, the thing that intrigued Campaign for Justice the most – more than the outcome, was the apparent low level and very public display of some of those legal savvy available in this country – just after the Court of Appeal had delivered its decision. Instead of settling the nerves, on Friday 17th of July 2021, for a time the public was plunged into further confusion, not least because of the conflicting opinions shared widely on social media over the judgement.
No one should be oblivious to the fact that everyone is allowed to have an opinion; and that this might be purely a matter of interpretation. Social media platforms are always awash with news, gossip, innuendo, diatribes and what have you. But it does not help when those who are supposed to be in the know, are also peddling misconceptions and the interests of their masters – causing unnecessary perplexity and confusion in the social space.
Take this for instance. The judgement from the Appeal Court made it plain that it was well within the powers of the former speaker to make declarations as he did on June the 8th, 2021 and yet there were views from very well placed citizens including so-called ‘lawyers’ that the speaker did not have jurisdiction to do so, only the Supreme Court, based on Article 54 of the Constitution which stated:
“The jurisdiction to hear and determine any question as to whether a person has been validly elected as a Member of Parliament, the Malvatumauri Council of Chiefs, and a Provincial Government Council or whether he has vacated his seat or has become disqualified to hold it shall vest in the Supreme Court.”
Of course this provision was the basis of the Appellant’s case. However, one would not have gone on perpetuating this as if it was ‘absolute fact’ if they fully appreciated the Appeal Court judgement. The judgement succinctly stated at paragraph 38:
“We see no reason why he (the former speaker) could not reach the conclusion he announced on 8 June…”
At paragraph 39, the Appeal Court judges also said:
“For the reasons we have given, we do not think that process (to vacate a seat through the Supreme Court) is required in every case. In the vast majority of cases we consider the process used by the Speaker on this occasion will be appropriate. The rights of MPs affected by the decision are protected by the right of an MP to a Supreme Court challenge to the factual conclusions of the Speaker.”
This is just one example. There are countless others, some of which have had very real financial and economic implications.
In the interest of justice, Vanuatu citizens need sound legal minds who can decipher complicated legal concepts and jargons, and put them plainly before the laity. Surely it takes more than fancy gowns to be considered a good lawyer.
Whether they are advocating the interests of their clients, or serving as a prosecutor; good lawyers should know how to advance arguments in a composed and methodical manner that at the end of the day, justice is seen to have been done.
The public therefore must put to the legal fraternity: ‘Could it not be true that lawyers are being fast-tracked through the system before they are ready to practice? And instead of spending some time working under the supervision of a senior after legal training, are they being admitted too soon?’
Having said that, there is also the possibility that standards have been lowered by law training institutions, instead of being maintained or even raised higher. The Vanuatu Law Council has a duty and role to play and needs to ensure students of law are properly trained and get given time to learn the ropes – well before going out alone into private practice. The public deserves better.
So many have come unstuck with cases (some of which should have been quite straight forward) due to poor lawyering skills. There have even been times when lawyers should have been more frank with clients. Rules of proper etiquette and conduct spelled out by the Legal Practitioners Act just don’t seem to apply.
Sadly for many clients, often it is too late, having been made to spend large sums on legal costs – all for nothing; ultimately defeating the true purpose of justice.
- This article was first published by Vanuatu Daily Post on 24th of July 2021