How lawyers can serve in an independent south Sudan

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Tuesday, 18 January 2011 23:52
Written by Maker Mayek, The New Sudan Vision (NSV), newsudanvision.com
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 “What will be the role of a lawyer in an independent South Sudan?” asks NSV contributor Maker Mayek Riak in his inaugural piece. 

(Canberra, Australia) - I remember, two years ago, I was in a phone conversation with my grandmother who was interested to know what profession I was studying to get into. I told my grandmother that I was studying to be a lawyer. My response was followed by a long silence on her side of the conversation and eventually with a condescending remark phrased in a perfect Dinka: "Wen nyan die, ca piny tem kou ba cueer la kuen?" which could be translated to mean " my grandson, did you traverse the world to study trickery and deception?" The remark was followed by a laughter, tellingly, mocking my poor choice of a profession. I was amused by that reaction but I did not take it for granted.

What I could not comprehend was where my grandmother got the idea from that lawyers are deceitful and tricky given the fact she has never had any legal representation in her entire life and never even went to school to understand today’s complex legal systems. I have encountered young South Sudanese who berate lawyers as trained agents of trickery and are "professional liars" as one friend once put across. But I have never met anyone of my grandmother's age ranting such words about lawyers.

This leaves me with a question to ask, what do you think, would a Southerner who has been hard done by, or met the rough edges of law say about lawyers? The perception would be much worse, I guess. But really, it is not a fault of their own making. It is a mentality which has been moulded and indelibly ingrained by the experiences we have faced over the years. From Southern Sudan to the North and to those in the diaspora, especially Egypt and East Africa, Southern Sudanese have borne the brunt of law. How, then, could anyone be surprised to hear wrong perceptions about lawyers if our society is inhabited mainly by victims of law? Isn't law responsible for these negative perceptions?

That puts the role of a lawyer at the crux of matters as South Sudan achieves independence. But exactly, what role does a lawyer play in any society? What will be the role of a lawyer in an independent South Sudan? These are the questions at the heart of this article.

In the legal profession, especially in those societies whose underlying principles of law are influenced by the Common Law (the law whose principles emanated from the English law), a lawyer has three duties: the duty to the court, the duty to the public, and the duty to one's client. The duty to the court is founded on the notion that lawyers are officers of the court and they owe a paramount duty to the court. This is the primary duty they swear an allegiance to during admission and it comes with an array of responsibilities including: not to mislead the court, exercise an independent judgement, manage cases efficiently not just to the satisfaction of the practitioner's client but also to the efficient administration of justice. The lawyer's duty to the public is derived from the lawyer's ethical responsibilities as the officer of the court. In ensuring that a lawyer delivers an efficient public service, they are required to uphold high ethical standards and uphold the rule of law. They are required not just to be obedient to the court, but also to ensure that law is administered to the best interests of the public. It is a responsibility that outweighs a legal practitioner's duty to the client - the duty to ensure that the client's best interests are served. Take this New South Wales' (Australia's premier state) Law Society's statement on the ethical responsibility of lawyers:

"The role of lawyers in the community is the administration of justice. It is recognised that the law must protect the rights and freedoms of members of society. It is to be understood that lawyers are responsible to the community to observe high standards of conduct and behaviour and perform their duties to the courts, clients and fellow practitioners".

That sums up the role of a lawyer in a modern Common Law state. It is a sneak peek of what a lawyer's role will be in a modern Southern Sudanese state. South Sudan, as a future state, falls within the province of Common Law, considering our colonial ties to the British. Having highlighted the generic responsibilities of a lawyer in any society, it is prudent to consider the role a Southern Sudanese lawyer will play in the prosperity of our future state.

I believe the role of a Southern Sudanese lawyer runs in tandem with the generic roles of a lawyer in any country. It may be even more arduous, considering the problems inherent in our society. Inherent as we know these problems, we have fledgling legal institutions that can barely support the functions for which they were established for; majority of the legal personnel who run our institutions are poorly trained, incompetent and inexperienced; a substantial portion of our society does not understand its rights in law and does not know how to fight for them; and most worryingly, we have some leaders who often than not, bend laws in their favour to the detriment of the common man. These leaders are often too powerful to be challenged by anybody leave alone by an underprivileged citizen. This is the stage where the role of a South Sudanese lawyer will be critical. It will be our ultimate responsibility to fight for the underprivileged in our society; to fight for those whose rights are usurped and abused by the powerful.

Lawyers will have the responsibility to educate the public to understand their rights in law, how a legislation applies to them, write legal books to be taught in our schools and higher institutions of learning, defend the administration of justice and the reputation of the legal profession in Southern Sudan and help judges to define our case law (since there are hardly any precedents that have been archived anyway). Most importantly, it will be the lawyers' responsibility to keep in check the three pillars of government: the legislature, the Judiciary and the Executive to adhere to and uphold our constitution. This will be the most challenging; perhaps the diciest task the South Sudanese lawyers will undertake considering the sort of hostility lawyers may face in the society like ours. However, it is a responsibility worth shouldering.

In a nutshell, the role of a lawyer in any society is the administration of justice; the call to serve the public to ensure that both ends of the spectrum - the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless, government or private, are placed on a levelled playing field - where the culpable are punished and the innocent are accorded their rights. It is this role, I believe, that a Southern Sudanese lawyer will play.

*Maker Mayek Riak is a graduate of Bachelor of Arts, and a Bachelor of Laws and resides in Canberra, Australia. He can be reached on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.