Friday, October 30, 2020
You are here: Home » Latest News » Appointment Of Notaries In SW, NW Regions Is Legal – Bar President Bookmark This Page

Appointment Of Notaries In SW, NW Regions Is Legal – Bar President 

Interviewed By Ernest Sumelong

A recent decision to appoint notaries public in the Southwest and Northwest Regions of Cameroon has drawn adrenaline from Anglophone lawyers. While lawyers of these Regions are currently protesting the decision and are threatening secession, the President of the Cameroon Bar Association, Barrister Eta Besong Jr, says the appointment of notaries public in the Southwest and Northwest Regions is in accordance with the law. In this exclusive interview, Eta Besong talks about the legality of appointing notaries, the incompatibility between the job of a notary and an advocate and the effects of the appointment to Anglophone lawyers. Excerpts:

There are allegations of a move to appoint notaries public in the Southwest and Northwest Regions of the country, as the President of the Cameroon Bar Association what is your take on it?

I heard of it after the meeting of African notaries that held from the 22 to 24 of April in Yaounde. As the President of the Cameroon Bar Association, I am a respecter of the law. So far, no notary has been appointed yet in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. But, as to whether there is legality to the appointment of notaries in the Southwest and Northwest Regions, I think the law is clear on that and this is not just the 1990 law.

Even in the 1987 law, which organised the profession of advocacy, it was made very clear that lawyers of the Southwest and Northwest were to act as notary public. There was a rider to that law that they will so act until notaries are appointed. I think we should look at the way the law is couched. From the 1987 law, the 1990 law under which we have operate, we would have known that we are acting within a given time frame and that once notaries are appointed; advocates would cease to operate as such. I know it is a position that does not find favour with Anglophone advocates because Anglophone advocates resident in the Southwest and Northwest Regions talk of acquired right. But you don’t talk about acquired right which has limitation. You must talk of that right in the context of the law.
I want to imagine that your colleagues are not ignorant about this clause in the law; why is there so much agitation now?

You see, agitation is everybody’s human right. Everybody has the right to protest what he thinks might infringe on one or other benefit. It is not for me to judge any colleague, their attitudes and what they think. I believe that being a lawyer, being legalistic, one should be able to see what one is heading for and where one is heading in accordance with the law.

The 1987 law that organised practise at the Bar, the modification that was the 1990 law, had this provision. What you find in the 1990 law was just a carry over from the 1987 law. When notaries are appointed, a good portion of our Anglo-saxon tradition that provides that a barrister would act as a notary would be taken away but the question is; would the appointment infringe the law? If it is not going to be contrary to the law, then there is no need making a storm in a tea cup.

Most of your colleagues believe that you are holding this position because you are the Bar President and would want to safe face with members of the Francophone divide. What do you say to that?

First of all, before being the President of the Cameroon Bar Association, I am a lawyer and I am Anglophone. Those are things that came before my election. Everybody who professes a career or a profession must sit on a base and I sit on the Anglophone base. But the fact that I sit on a base does not prevent me from looking at the law as it is. Whatever I say is in accordance with my conscience and the law.

There are fears that when these notaries would be appointed in the Anglophone regions, they would mostly be Francophones. Is there any provision to ensure that only Anglophones are appointed in these areas?

Well, there, there is a problem because we have seen this problem with bailiffs. A number of francophone bailiffs have invaded the Northwest and Southwest Regions. The fear that the appointment would bring in Francophone notaries here cannot be ruled out and it is unfortunate because they would be dealing with people who are purely English-speaking. I know they would have difficulties operating here.

What do they know about the English concept of mortgages, what do they know about the English concept of leases and so on? Let us hope that the government would take care of that. As you know, being a lawyer in Cameroon, whether an Anglophone or Francophone, you can practise anywhere. Being a bailiff and a notary in Cameroon is not the problem, but where you choose to operate would be the problem.

Being the President of the Cameroon Bar Association and an Anglophone lawyer, were you consulted to make suggestions on this issue?

I must be honest that the President of the National Chamber of Notaries in Cameroon did extend an invitation to me in my capacity as the President of the Cameroon Bar to the opening session of that meeting, what they called Universitaire de Notaires Africaines, which took place in Yaounde. I was invited but due to other imperatives (I lost a niece and the responsibility was squarely mine) I couldn’t make it. I did write to them and appointed someone to represent me. But, even though the law exists that Anglophone lawyers or those residing in the Anglophone Regions are notaries public, none of them was invited. And if you look at the list of notaries public that has been published by the Chamber of Notaries, you will not find any Anglophone.

Is there anything the Bar Association can do to give conditions or make suggestions before such appointments are made?

Well, the Bar Council doesn’t have jurisdiction to make proposals when it comes to another profession like that of notaries. That is a profession which is completely different. You see; the law that organises the practice at the Bar, the 1990 law, talks of incompatibility. Section 74 of that law gives a special provision to Anglophone lawyers resident in the Anglophone regions to act as notaries. If that is not so, the functions of the notary public would be incompatible with that of an advocate.

A Francophone advocate, acting anywhere in Francophone Cameroon, cannot act as a notary. That incompatibility cannot be raised in the Southwest and Northwest Regions of Cameroon because of the special provision. There is incompatibility between the functions of the advocate and the notary but if they say they should change the provision and make Anglophone advocates to be notaries in the real sense of the word, then there would be incompatibility and the advocate would have to choose whether he wants to be an advocate or a notary public.

There are allegations that before this idea came to the fore, some Anglophone lawyers had applied to be appointed notary public.

Well, that is true.

So, this means the idea of appointing notaries public is not just coming now?

It can’t be now. As I have told you, the 1987 law makes it clear that notaries would be appointed. As soon as they are appointed, the advocates in the Southwest and Northwest would cease to act as notaries. It is not a new idea, it has been there for the past 27 years and that is why some Anglophone advocates applied to be transferred to operate as notary public.

What effect would the appointment of notaries have on Anglophone lawyers who have been performing that function?

Definitely, it will erode part of the work of the Anglophone advocate resident in any of the Anglophone regions.

Some lawyers see this as Anglophone marginalisation; how do you see it?

I don’t want to look at it as a political problem but more as a legal issue. I don’t want to get into polemics of politics or political marginalisation. This law has been there since 1987 and we have been operating like that since then knowing that there would be a time of appointment. If Anglophones want to be notaries, let them be. And they should apply to be notaries and come along and do the work. I know that the good chunk of the Anglophone lawyers’ work would be taken away, but if any body thinks that that is the golden spoon, then let him go ahead and choose that.