The ICJ today called for reinstatement of Tanzania lawyer Fatma Karume, characterizing a permanent prohibition from her practicing law as a violation of her rights and the independence of the legal profession.
In September 2019, the High Court of Tanzania issued an order suspending senior lawyer Fatma Karume from practising law in mainland Tanzania.
The High Court directed the Advocates’ Disciplinary Committee of Tanzania to conduct a disciplinary hearing and make a final determination on whether Fatma Karume, a former president of Tanganyika Law Society, which is the Bar association of mainland Tanzania, should be allowed to practice law.
Allegations of misconduct against Fatma Karume arose from her written submissions in a constitutional challenge to President Magufuli’s appointment of Professor Adelardus Kilangi as the Attorney General of Tanzania.
The State’s counsel complained that the language used by Fatma Karume in her submissions was unprofessional and disrespectful of the Attorney General, who was the subject of the constitutional challenge.
A year later, on 23 September 2020, the Advocates’ Disciplinary Committee found Fatma Karume guilty of the alleged misconduct and directed that she be permanently disbarred from practising law in Tanzania.
“The ICJ views the decision to permanently disbar Fatma Karume from legal practice, as a grave violation of Tanzania’s domestic, regional and international legal obligations relating to Fatma Karume’s right to be heard, her right to work and a violation of the independence of lawyers,” said ICJ Africa Director, Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh.
“Fatma Karume’s right to be heard was violated in many ways. First, the complaint of misconduct was made in the State’s rejoinder submissions and Ms Karume was not afforded an opportunity to respond on record, before the High Court made the decision to temporarily suspend her from practice. Secondly, her right to a speedy hearing was violated because it took the Advocate’s Disciplinary Committee of Tanzania a year to make a final determination in her case,” she added.
The ICJ also considers that the substance of the charges of misconduct against Fatma Karume was inconsistent with international and regional standards, in so far as they were based on written submissions made in good faith as part of the due discharge of her professional functions.
The ICJ urges the authorities in Tanzania to rescind the decision to disbar Fatma Karume from legal practice and restore her right to work and in particular, her right to practice law.
In the meantime, ICJ welcomes the decision of the Tanganyika Law Society to support Fatma Karume to appeal against her disbarment.
Articles 21 and 13 (6) (a) of the Constitution of Tanzania guarantee every person with the right to work and the right to a fair hearing respectively. In terms of regional law, Article 7(1) of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights obliges governments to respect and protect the right of every individual to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by a competent court or tribunal; the right to present a defense; and, the right to be tried within a reasonable time by an impartial court or tribunal. Similar rights are recognised in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). In addition, Principle 27 of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (UN Basic Principles) states that “Charges or complaints made against lawyers in their professional capacity shall be processed expeditiously and fairly under appropriate procedures. Lawyers shall have the right to a fair hearing, including the right to be assisted by a lawyer of their choice.”
Principle 20 of the UN Basic Principles provides that “Lawyers shall enjoy civil and penal immunity for relevant statements made in good faith in written or oral pleadings or in their professional appearances before a court, tribunal or other legal or administrative authority.” Similar provisions are included in Part I of the African Principles and Guidelines.
Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, Director of ICJ’s Africa Regional Programme, c: +27845148039, e: Kaajal firstname.lastname@example.org