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Veteran lawyers revisit their 61 years in corridors of justice.

Sixty-one years ago, I was not yet born. Even my father, who came to this world in 1962, was not yet born. But that is how long Chitranjah Gor and Kurban Karimbhai - now in their 80s - have served in the corridors of justice.

In 1958, the two were admitted to the bar as barristers (equivalent to advocate of the High Court), having graduated from a law school in the United Kingdom.

Theirs is a story of perseverance and honesty that has enabled them to have a long lifespan while serving as advocates, as well as staying away from any scandals that could easily damage their reputation.

The two are the longest-serving advocates in Mombasa, if not in Kenya, and in fact, they are still in active practice.

They have seen the evolution of the judiciary and the law, from working under the colonial era of white-only magistrates and judges to Kenyan judiciary officers, from wearing black suits and white shirts-only uniform to the exploration of coloured attire in courts.

The years of working alongside each other have made them more like brothers in the corridors of justice than colleagues. They are inseparable, as you will find them together most of the time.

Gor graduated from a UK university and was admitted as a barrister but came back home, where his dream of becoming a lawyer began during his childhood days.

Born to a customs officer father in Mombasa, he had to endure seven years working as a volunteer as he waited for his brother to finish university education before he could join.

Gor said after finishing his O levels education, his family could not afford to have both him and his elder brother at the university. Therefore, being the younger one, he had to pave way for his bigger brother.

'I opted to wait for my brother to graduate in the medical field. But as I waited for him to return from the UK, I had to keep myself busy,' he said.


Gor then volunteered for seven years as a community teacher in several secondary schools in the region, including Kikowani Secondary School and Kaloleni High School.

Immediately his brother graduated, he was accepted to a UK university, where his dreams of becoming a barrister materialised after patiently waiting for seven years.

'After graduating, all I could think of was to come back home and practise where my family was and where it all started,' he said.

Gor believes that since he was a Kenyan of Asian origin, he did not have to struggle, as everything was provided on a silver platter. Serving during the colonial era, Gor said it was not easy but it still remains one of the best times to practise.

In that era, judges served across East Africa nations under the name East Africa protectorate. Lawyers were also allowed to move across the region in their practice. But Gor preferred practising in Kenya only.

Gor says there has been tremendous change from the 1990s to the 20th century. He said previously, the courts were a hub of efficiency and a corruption-free arm of the government.


'During that era, when you lose a case, you just accept and move on, as there was no reason to suspect a sinister move by the court,' he said.

The expeditious way in which cases were handled by magistrates and judges comes to the mind of the old man. He says cases of unnecessary adjournments, missing files or judge absenteeism were unheard of, as everyone thrived in ensuring matters were concluded in six months, which was the stipulated time for hearing and determining cases.

But Gor does not blame the judiciary or anyone in particular for some of the contemporary inefficiency. Rather, he blames the ever-increasing population, the freedom to move to court, the Constitution and the levels of education of Kenyans.

He says today, Kenyans are more educated and they know they have a right to move to court whenever aggrieved and that is why there are many cases filed each day at the Kenyan courts.

Unlike the current system, where any case can go to the High Court, Gor said only cases with a dispute of more Sh3,000 would be filed at the High Court. The rest would be resolved at the lower courts.

'That system saw the High Court with only eight cases per day, which were manageable, contrary to now where they handle more than 20 cases a day,' he said.

In terms of discipline, Gor reminisces when judge Ernest Kneller, who came to the station as a deputy registrar, instilled discipline to court staff, who previously arrived late to the station.

'Kneller would arrive at around 7am and stand at the gate, and staff would find him there when they came but he would say nothing apart from greeting and wishing them a good day. Within days, everyone arrived at work by 7.30am,' Gor said.


Gor's colleague Karimbhai commends the increasing number of young women joining the bar, compared to 60 years ago.

He said during the colonial era, women lawyers were almost unheard of. They were very few, unlike now, where women have risen to the occasion, with some of them handling multimillion-shilling cases.

But how has the duo been able to maintain the work standards for more than half a century, with their clients still trusting them and being able to keep off any scandal?

Karimbhai said the secret to a successful career is honesty between the lawyer and the client.

'A client cannot allow you to handle his million-shilling assets if you are not an honest person. And to achieve that, one has to shelve greed and the hunger to make money instantly without hard work,' he said.

With cases of lawyers being mentioned in unscrupulous deals and scandals, the soft-spoken lawyer urges rising stars in the corridors of justice to be patient in order to make an honest living and leave a mark on those they serve.

'Clients' interests should come first before anything. Once you build trust with clients, you will make a name and people will remember you for your good deeds,' Karimbhai said.
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Publication:The Star (Nairobi, Kenya)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 8, 2019
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