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Lawyers Call Magistrates “Dealers” 

By Chris Mbunwe

The Northwest Lawyers Association, NOWELA, has reportedly uncovered some shady deals and misdeeds by the magistrates in the Region.

The shady deals, NOWELA observed, are either meant to frustrate the practice of the lawyers at the Bar or to extort money from the population.

Among the six grievances taken to the President of the Northwest Court of Appeal for onward transmission to Yaounde, the Northwest Lawyers decried the practice where Magistrates, while performing their official duties for which they are paid by the state, still “charge exorbitant locus fees and at times, they do that without the knowledge of the Counsel. This is unacceptable and should stop,” reads the memo dated February 23, 2015, signed by NOWELA President, Barrister Robert Nso Fon.

Barrister Fon told The Post on February 25, in Bamenda, that there are Magistrates who would request the parties in a case to pay as much as FCFA 150,000 from his or her station office to down town Bamenda to visit a locus or a disputed area.

The amount requested before they move further away from their cozy offices into enclave villages is in hundreds and millions contributed by two parties to a dispute.

Fon said, if they are condemning such practices, it should not be mistaken that they are against Magistrates charging locus fees, but that; “Here in the Northwest, the Magistrates have exaggerated, whilst they are paid a salary for carrying out theses duties.” Fon argued that the population cannot be suffering under abject poverty and the association fails to condemn it.

Recalling that they met at the High Court premises in Mezam Division last February 20, with due regards to the fact that the lawyers of the Northwest Region are English-speaking Cameroonian advocates practising the Common Law since unification in 1961, which is a rich cultural heritage recognised by the Constitution as unimpeachable feature and pillar of the unity between the former Southern Cameroons and the former East Cameroon, Fon said NOWELA is bent on resolving these problems, professionally.

He said, for more than 50 years, the lawyers have witnessed “a systematic and unmitigated dismantling of the Common Law heritage, which could be seen in all spheres of national life whereby the identity of the Cameroonian Anglophone is systematically being annihilated.” Fon said this fierce and provocative attempt at assimilating the Anglophone legal heritage is an abuse of the concept of reunification, a violation of and a threat to national unity.

The lawyers, therefore, resolved that: “The language of communication in all the Courts of the Northwest Region, especially in the Court of Appeal, is English, which is not only a Constitutional right, but a minority right in a bilingual Cameroon, because of her colonial past.”
The lawyers equally resolved that they will not put on robes in the Magistrate Courts and should not be compelled to do so. And that both Magistrates and lawyers should maintain Courtroom decorum with due respects to the Courts.

The memo also states that civil claims in criminal matters can be presented orally or in writing and a lawyer “should not be denied audience because of the non filling of the civil claim.”
The President of NOWELA said bail within the context of law is a Human Rights issue, especially as all accused persons are Constitutionally presumed innocent until found guilty through a trial with the strict respect of the rights of the defence and should not be subject to the Magistrate first seeing the sureties. The association equally condemned the practice where Magistrates tender complete case files which are admitted and relied upon in the conviction of accused persons in the absence of prosecution witnesses. This, according to Fon, is considered as a violation of the law and the fundamental Human Rights of Cameroonians, especially from the Northwest Region.

For about a week, the scenes at the Northwest Court of Appeal have been characterised by shouting matches between Francophone judges and Anglophone lawyers, wherein, Francophones keep insisting that they must present their submissions in French, claiming that is the language they master best.
Barrister Michael Akum told this reporter that they are not against the Francophone judges sent to the Northwest.

“We are rather against their snobbish attitude where they are claiming that Cameroon is bilingual and, as such, they must make submissions on the Court floor, in French. No! It must stop! When I am in Douala or Yaounde or the West Region, I do receive submissions in French, so, they must go and get themselves empowered at the Old Town Bilingual Training Institution in English, else, these shouting matches will continue.

The other day it was the turn of the Northwest Representative of the Bar Council President, Barrister Henry Kemende Gamsey,” Lawyer Akum stated.

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