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Justice Minister Castigates Striking Anglophone Lawyers 

By Joe Dinga Pefok

Minister of Justice and Keeper of the Seals, Laurent Esso

Minister of Justice and Keeper of the Seals, Laurent Esso

The Minister of Justice and Keeper of the Seals, Laurent Esso, has bashed Common Law lawyers for undertaking their ongoing strike action.

The Minister also bashed the Common Law lawyers who sent him a memorandum, for behaving as if the English versions of the Uniform Acts constitute part of Common Law.

Hear him: “The fact that the Uniform Acts are translated into English in Cameroon, does not make them Common Law in the sense of the claims made in the document I received.”

In an interview published on November 7, 2016, by the French language newspaper, La Metéo, the Minister sounded dismissive of the grievances of the Common Law lawyers and also criticised their approach.

The interview focused mostly on the issue of the translation of the OHADA Law (Uniform Business Law) which is comprised of Uniform Acts.

The Justice Minister did not show any sign of stretching out an olive branch to the striking Common Law lawyers for dialogue.

He rather chastised lawyers boycotting court sessions for abandoning clients, stranded in courts, and from who, he said, they had grabbed money to render services.

He said it is an act of professional irresponsibility for lawyers who having been paid by their clients, “abandon them in courts and take to the streets.”

He reminded the striking Common Law lawyers of Section 1 of the Law on Practice at the Bar.

The Minister went to the extent of mooting that the Cameroon Bar Council should sanction some Common Law lawyers.

“If advocates who receive fees from their clients, fail to turn up to defend them in court, or are not around to provide their clients with the requested legal advices, and instead find themselves in the streets making questionable claims, it is up to the Bar Council to assess the conducts of such members, based on the ethics and deontology of the profession”

Apparently making allusion to a long mooted Government’s controversial plan to harmonise the two legal systems in Cameroon, the Minister hinted that the days of the Common Law tradition in the country are numbered.

“Cameroon has embarked on an irreversible process for the evolution and modernisation of its Judicial Law, which will integrate other communities, legislations and international conventions; the internationalisation of which will place us above what some persons call Common Law Tradition”.

Translation Of OHADA Law

On the issue of the translation into English of Uniform Acts that make up the OHADA Law, Minister Esso, first of all, recalled that French was initially the only working language of OHADA.

He claimed that it was at Cameroon’s request that Article 42 of the OHADA Treaty was amended and English, Portuguese and Spanish became other working languages of OHADA.

“However, because some legal practitioners in Cameroon held that the English versions provided by the Permanent Secretariat (of OHADA) were of doubtful technical quality, the Ministry of Justice set up a Committee in charge of proof-reading or translating these instruments into English.

The setting up of the Committee, which is chaired by a high ranking English-speaking Judge of the Supreme Court, was lauded by OHADA”, the Minister disclosed.

He said OHADA decided that the institution would, henceforth, use versions of texts translated into English by the National Committee of OHADA, as its official English versions.

But the Minister asserted that, in line with Article 9 of the OHADA Treaty, any Uniform Act or text translated by the National Committee must be sent to the Permanent Secretariat of OHADA to first publish in the institution’s Gazette, before it is published in Cameroon’s official Gazette.

The minister recalled that it was Cameroon that translated into English the OHADA Treaty which was published in both English and French in the official Gazette of the Republic of Cameroon on November 15, 1997.

It was the same thing with two Uniform Acts that were published in the official Gazette in September and November 1999.

But the Minister did not explain why in 1997 and 1999 it was possible for the National Committee to rapidly translate texts from French to English, as well as to have the texts published in the official Gazette simultaneously in English and French, and why it has become an impossibility to do since 2010?

The Un-translated Uniform Acts

Asked why there has been this long delay to translate a number of Uniform Acts of OHADA into English that has sparked protest by Common Law lawyers, Esso claimed that a number of those Uniform Acts were, in fact, translated by the National Committee of OHADA. But he did not name the Uniform Acts he claimed were translated.

“But just as Government was about to transmit the translated instruments in English to the Permanent Secretariat for publication in the official Gazette of OHADA, the OHADA Council of Ministers embarked on amending and updating some Uniform Acts in force,”

As for the texts which is currently being translated, the minister said the work started long before the strike by Common Law lawyers and that a greater part of the work has already been done.

“As you can see, the Committee did not wait for advocates to go on strike, before starting work. Translation work is a long process, and it is ongoing”.

Meanwhile, Barrister Roland Abeng of Abeng Law Firm, Douala, whose planned conference in Douala on the issue was banned by the DO of Douala I, stated that there are a total of four Uniform Acts that have not been translated into English in Cameroon.

They are: 1) 2010 Revised Uniform Act on General Commercial Law. 2) 2010 Revised Uniform Act Organising Securities. 3) 2014 Revised Uniform Act Relating To Commercial Companies And The Economic Interest Group. 4) 2015 Uniform Act Organising Collective Proceedings For Wiping Off Debts.