The legal fraternity wails in grief. Grief so thick, it could snow. The “warp and woof of mystery, misery and death” holds siege every inch of legal thought and space. It has woven itself into every legal process, every step, every debate every look and every greeting.
It is in the lawyer’s coffee, beneath the worn gown, in the courtroom, in the silence of the office and sits upon the pages of the law books. We mourn a quintessential model of professional rectitude; an epitome of legal nobility. We would have been content with half her talents; even her grace. Death has thrust us into morbid introspection. Her footsteps admonish our consciences; more in death, than in life. So lovable, so likeable, so respectable; a woman, for all seasons.
A colleague shared a joke with me once. He related how looking down the street through the window of a house, a man preparing to go to work once remarked while reaching for his heaviest garment; “Today must be very cold,” he said, “I can see a lawyer with his hands in his own pockets”.
Of course I laughed. But a debate had only just begun within me. Are we just another sector of business consumed in the morally destitute chase of elusive and ever dwindling capital? Is there, genuinely, a cause beyond ourselves? From that introspection, I laid myself a moral beacon. One way of knowing that I am almost certainly wrong is when I find myself on the same side with the majority. A good life is lived by the conscience, not public expectations. People, including fellow Christians, often say to me; “Kgosi, why do you represent these murderers. Why do you stand with them?” On social media, many have even admonished me for falling from grace in the selfish pursuit of capital. I always reply; “I stand with them because they stand alone”. Being a lawyer is, principally, about lending an ear and a voice to those who society has rejected but who, like us all, remain in God’s likeness. Those no one wants to talk to or hear anything from. Those whose destruction is desirable as a matter of urgency and in the perceived public interest. It is an ability to see and to assert human worth despite the perceived or proven wrong. I would never forgive myself for shutting the door on the face of a man or woman that society has rejected, whatever his sin. I would sooner, desert society itself or be deserted by it. Now, that doesn’t sound good. But then, that’s my very point. Lawyering is priesthood. It is not motor mechanics or aircraft maintenance. Our consciences are bound by a sacred oath of service. Service, in the temple
Yes, sometimes we let the public down. We fall from grace and cast the profession into negative light. But sometimes our oaths demand that we walk into and suffer scorn. We bear it with fortitude. We strive on; lending eloquence to the voiceless; strength to the weak and a shoulder to the despairing. True, we are generally rewarded for our efforts. Nothing rewards, however, like lying on your back in the dead of the night and hearing the ovation of your conscience echo through the chambers of your mind.
The principles we defend have been handed to us by society. We do not make them. Where there is reasonable doubt we seek an acquittal. Where the burden is discharged we demand a conviction or that a claim be upheld. Natural justice; equality before the law, constitutionalism; count among the hard won ideals we guard and assert. We eschew the idea of a society where justice is determined by reference to popular sentiment or expediency.
Often, the public is justified in its anger. But just as often, it is wrong in its reaction. It is the duty of a lawyer to stand between society and the subject of its rage; to restrain the hand lifted to the injury of a neighbour; to insist, even at own expense, that disputes shall be dealt with by no other means but the process of the law and to assert the dignity of every human being whether they sleep in a castle or under the bridge. In our inexplicable grief, we are reminded of our calling and the solemn oaths we took on being consecrated to our ranks. We have a duty to engineer a just order under which our nation should prosper and our children should grow. Society may hardly comprehend why we do what we do. Our motives may be misinterpreted. To many, only an arctic winter can make us keep our hands in our pockets. No! We seek only the invigorating autumn of justice. We do it to honour our own. The likes of Ms. Binta Tobedza. Those who kept the profession to their last breath. Friends, lend me the eloquence of the Persian poet, Omar Khayyam. Indulge me, some poetic licence;
“So I be written in the book of love
It care not what other book there is
Erase my name or write it as you will
So I be written in the book of love”
So long, Binta. Be strong, boys.