What you need to know:
- The Law Society of Kenya had summoned the law firms to investigate claims that some lawyers were exploiting Mau Mau victims.
As Kenyans marked the 50th Madaraka Day, a group of lawyers was holed up in a boardroom to thrash out disagreements arising from looming legal battles over the sharing of billions of shillings set to be paid to victims of the Mau Mau war of independence.
The Law Society of Kenya had summoned the law firms to investigate claims that some lawyers were exploiting Mau Mau victims.
The Nation has been following the Mau Mau compensation intrigues involving law firms in Kenya and in London and brings you the inside story of the fight for the expected windfall.
In the course of our inquiries, we established that the Mau Mau saga has attracted people as far away as the Cayman Islands, that tax haven that is popular with people with huge amounts of money who want to avoid scrutiny. They too want a piece of the pie after the British government last month suggested an out-of-court settlement in a case lodged in London by five claimants.
The fights seem to have reached fever pitch as the payout date draws closer with sources indicating the money could be released in the next three months.
Lawyers handling the cases have been mum on how much the British government has placed on the table, but sources told the Nation that victims of torture could get as much as Sh5 million each, bringing the total payout amount to billions of shillings.
The Mau Mau War Veterans Association, which, in conjunction with the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) filed a case in London through the British law firm, Leigh Day represents 8,000 victims, but a number of other firms and lobbies are also registering people.
The expected billions have caught the eyes of sponsors or investors in the UK who have reportedly spent thousands of pounds on law firms with a view to making profits on their investment when compensation is made. Apparently, funding law firms with “good” cases with a high probability of success is a common business practice in the UK.
Agreements we saw show that one law firm had pocketed in excess of Sh1.2 billion from the Cayman-based Axiom Legal Financing Fund, a company specialising in funding legal suits. Another management claims firm working with the law firm had received nearly Sh200 million.
In all, a total of seven international law firms and nine based in Kenya are caught up in the scramble.
“It is no longer about victims, but big money. Some are purporting to be registering victims who sign forms committing themselves to receive Sh300,000 when the money is paid out, yet the compensation could run into millions of shillings depending on the nature of harm,” said LSK chairman Eric Mutua.
Saturday’s meeting at a Nairobi hotel was attended by representatives of three groups. One is UK-based Tandem Law which works with Miller and Company Advocates and PK Kamau and Company Advocates of Kenya.
The other is Leigh Day and Kenya National Commission on Human Rights which works with Mbugua Mureithi and Company Advocates.
These two entities have cases coming up in London later this month whereas the third company — G.T. Law Solicitors of UK, which works in Kenya with Rabala and Company Advocates — is set to file their case on behalf of 700 clients.
G.T. Law was represented by Mr Ronald Onyango and Mr Donald Rabala. LSK chief executive Apollo Mboya told the Sunday Nation that the three entities sought to distance themselves from groups collecting money from victims.
LSK gave the groups two weeks to provide clients’ details. Mr Mboya also said the meeting investigated claims that some groups handling the cases were not run by lawyers.
The meeting, we established, also sought to address the move by one law firm to transfer clients to other law firms without seeking authority in accordance with the law.
“Tandem Law – which mutated from Ashton Fox Solicitors and then recently to Antony Hodari Solicitors – has racially discriminated against the Mau Mau clients en masse by treating them less favourably in comparison to the practice adopted by UK law firms when transferring white/European clients as stipulated by the required codes,” a letter to LSK from Mr Onyango and Mr Rabala states.
Some of the groups are operating in the country without work permits, according to correspondence between the Immigration Department and the lawyers.
Tandem Law has been recording statements from many of the former freedom fighters and has issued a warning to surviving veterans that they should only register with them or Griffin Legal, a Kenyan management claims company. But as the lawyers engage in court and boardroom fights over the expected windfall, some of the Mau Mau victims of torture and detention are dying of age, poverty and disease.
For instance, 100-year-old Miriam Wairimu Kiguru lives in a tiny, decrepit shack in Southlands estate, a stone’s throw away from Freedom corner where she witnessed the handing over of power from Malcom Macdonald to Mzee Jomo Kenyatta 50 years ago. (See separate story).
And although Mrs Kiguru has not received a cent for her troubles, Axiom Legal Financing Fund has sued Tandem Law for alleged “wrong use of the received money” while Tandem has in turn sued Axiom for not completing the funding process.
In another twist, Rabala and Company Advocates has sued Tandem Law for using the company’s name in the deals even after they “circumvented the firm” and engaged Griffin Legal as their associates in Kenya.
But Tandem Law has also come out fighting, and has disowned the out-of-court settlement successfully procured by Leigh Day, saying the case by the Mau Mau War Veterans Association was still before the UK court.
The case was lodged on behalf of Mukami Kimathi — the widow of legendary Mau Mau leader Dedan Kimathi — and James Karanja Nyoro, among others.
“We ask all veterans affected by recent reports to be patient as we work towards ensuring that the voice of our struggle is not buried by a deal that undermines our hope,” read an advert signed by Eliud Kinyua, Geoffrey Mwai and Duncan Mwangi.
That statement claimed Leigh Day was only representing three veterans, while Tandem Law has been pursuing a two-pronged approach: suing the British Government while negotiating with it for a possible out-of-court settlement.
However, Mr Martin Day, a senior partner at Leigh Day, dismissed Tandem Law’s allegations as “nonsense”. “We have a very strong case and we are sure of winning, but we don’t want to win when our clients will be no more to enjoy the fruits of their fight. One of our clients, Gen Kassam died last week, so did Marui Wambui, one of the members of the association,” said Mr Day.
He argued the case was taking too long and they suspected the British government was taking advantage of the advancing years of the victims to deny them their right.
Three men and two women, who say they were variously beaten, raped and castrated during the Kenyan “emergency” from 1952 to 1960, lodged a claim for compensation against the government at the London High Court on June 23, 2009 and demanded an official apology.
The five are: Mr Ndiku Mutua and Mr Paulo Nzili, who both say they were castrated, Ms Jane Muthoni Mara and Ms Susan Ngondi, who say they were seriously sexually assaulted, and Mr Wambugu wa Nyingi, who was imprisoned for nine years in spite of never having taken the Mau Mau oath.
Two of the five claimants have since died.
While giving evidence, Mr Nyingi said he witnessed 14 men being killed in one camp and 11 in another, surviving only because he lay for three days amidst their corpses and the guards assumed he was dead.
“I feel I was robbed of my youth and that I did not get to do the things I should have done as a young man,” he said. “There is a saying in Kikuyu that old age lives off the years of youth, but I have nothing to live off because my youth was taken from me.”
The number of people detained during the emergency period is disputed, though the official estimate is 80,000. But according to Kenya: a History Since Independence published by Charles Hornsby last year, as a many as 320,000 Africans were detained and tortured in more than 50 detention and work camps.
Hornsby writes that a quarter of adult male Kikuyu population could have passed through the system between 1952 and 1958.
Last October, the High Court in London dismissed attempts by the British government to stop the case from proceeding claiming that the possibility of a fair trial was minimal as it had been overtaken by events.