TANZANIA: Fatma Karume suspended indefinitely by the High Court of Tanzania
Fatma Karume is a renowned Tanzanian lawyer, senior partner of the law firm IMMMA Advocates and former President of the Tanganyika Law Society. She specializes in civil litigation, arbitration, constitutional law and administrative law. She is associated with various landmark judgments of the Court of Appeal and the High Court of Tanzania.
On 20 September 2019, she was “indefinitely suspended” in mainland Tanzania by the High Court of Tanzania. This action follows allegations of misconduct following her written submissions in the context of a constitutional case to the President’s appointment of Professor Adelardus Kilangi as Attorney General of Tanzania.
The Commonwealth Lawyers Association (CLA) has requested that Karume’s suspension be immediately lifted pending consideration of a case against her involving allegations of misconduct before the Lawyers Disciplinary Commission.
The suspension was pronounced and applied immediately even though the lawyer was unable to respond to the complaint against her. No hearing was held beforehand, demonstrating a clear lack of respect for rules and procedures.
The Court referred the case back to the lawyers’ disciplinary committee for a decision, but the immediate suspension is already equivalent to a sanction against the lawyer. Since 5 December 2019, lawyer Fatma Karume’s hearing has been systematically postponed, making it impossible for her to practice her profession for now.
On 16 March 2020, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Diego García-Sayán, expressed his concern about the suspension of Fatma Karume. He recalled that “Lawyers are entitled have the right to take part in matters concerning the administration of justice & protection of human rights, without suffering professional backlash for their legal action“.
The OIAD would like to recall that the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers adopted by the United Nations in Havana in 1990 provide that :
“Lawyers shall enjoy civil and penal immunity for relevant statements made in good faith in written or oral pleadings or in their professional appearances before a court, tribunal or other legal or administrative authority” (Principle No. 20).
The OIAD joins the joint statement issued by six international lawyers’ organizations that the suspension of the lawyer without notice and the failure to ensure a prompt and fair trial in this case are violations of regional and international law standards and undermine the safeguards designed to ensure the independence of the legal profession and ultimately the rule of law in Tanzania.
The OIAD recalls that under the 1990 UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers:
“Charges or complaints made against lawyers in their professional capacity shall be processed expeditiously and fairly under appropriate procedures. Lawyers shall have the right to a fair hearing, including the right to be assisted by a lawyer of their choice” (Principle No. 27);
“Disciplinary proceedings against lawyers shall be brought before an impartial disciplinary committee established by the legal profession, before an independent statutory authority, or before a court, and shall be subject to an independent judicial review” (Principle No. 28).
The OIAD urges the Tanzanian authorities to immediately lift the suspension of Fatma Karume’s practice and to have this case diligently and fairly reviewed before an impartial disciplinary body, in accordance with the appropriate procedures.