What you need to know:
- Let us normalise speaking out, reaching out to our loved ones and seeking professional help where needed.
- The stigma surrounding mental health is often a barrier to people seeking help.
- I am motivated to offer legal audit services by a combination of factors including promoting compliance, risk mitigation, professional growth and making a positive impact to my clients and the society at large.
Emily Muriguh, is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya, a certified professional mediator and an accredited legal audit governance and compliance expert. She is a member of the law society of Kenya. She manages a legal firm by the name DNA Legal Consultants, and serves as the Executive Director of Democracy and Legal Aid Centre.
What was your dream career?
As a young girl I saw myself being the country’s Chief Justice. Throughout my life, I’ve remained focused on achieving that goal, which is why I studied law.
Which branch of the law did you specialise in?
My areas of focus are disability law, legal audit, compliance and governance, and I have keen interest in mental health issues. It is important to note that a mental health condition is not a disability. Mental health is dictated by our environment, for instance, what is causing us stress or making one depressed. However, a mental health issue can lead to a disability if it prevents a person from performing their daily activities. Let us normalise speaking out, reaching out to our loved ones and seeking professional help where needed. The stigma surrounding mental health is often a barrier to people seeking help.
I am motivated to offer legal audit services by a combination of factors including promoting compliance, risk mitigation, professional growth and making a positive impact to my clients and the society at large.
What inspired your career choice, and your areas of specialisation?
I am a caregiver to a lovely child with disability, hence my interest in ensuring that children with disabilities have a better tomorrow. I have firsthand experience on what it is like to be with someone living with a disability. I passionately conduct civic education on the need for inclusivity and dignity for all.
Tell us a little more about disability law and mental health.
Disability law seeks to protect disabled persons from discrimination and eliminate barriers towards full enjoyment of their rights and inclusion in the society. The Constitution of Kenya recognises the importance of preserving the dignity of individuals and promoting social justice, as well as the realisation of the potential of all human beings.
The Constitution goes further to prescribe certain rights entitled to persons with disabilities in Article 54. These rights include: To be treated with dignity and respect, and to be addressed and referred to in a manner that is not demeaning.
We also have in place the Mental Health Amendment Act, 2022. The Act guarantees the dignity of persons with mental disability by recognising that they have a legal capacity to make decisions by themselves. As a society, we come in by respecting their will and preferences and availing information in a format or manner that they are able to understand. In summary, mental health is the psychological, emotional and social well-being that affects how we think, feel and act.
Mental illnesses on the other hand are the conditions or disorders that affect a person’s feelings, thinking, mood or behaviour. These conditions include bipolar, schizophrenia, neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity, post-traumatic stress disorder, personality disorders among others.
Mental health and mental illness can be compared to physical health and physical illnesses. While legal framework change is appreciated, a lot more needs to be done to ensure inclusion of persons with disability in all spheres of life for them to enjoy the bill of rights and live dignified lives.
What are the most memorable moments in your career?
I can never forget when the Democracy and Legal Aid Centre in partnership with another NGO and the National Gender and Equality Commission successfully ensured the release of a child with disability who had been wrongfully detained in prison for five years. She was arrested and taken to Mathare Maximum Prison hospital as a child with a mental illness. Her age was wrongly assessed and she was subjected to medication of an adult for the entire five-year period. With our intervention, she was released. It was such a pleasure witnessing the reunion between the minor and her family members as she exited the criminal justice system.
What does it take for one to be in your career?
It takes passion, interest and educational qualifications. The academic qualifications required for one to be a lawyer include a Bachelor of Laws degree from an accredited university. And for one to be an advocate, a higher diploma in law from the Kenya School of Law or equivalent of the same.
What challenges do you face in your career, and how do you tackle them?
Managing and balancing growth of the organisations that I lead, while maintaining the quality of services is not easy. I tackle that by focusing on attaining sustainability and maintaining the organisation’s mission and culture.
How do you ensure you’re consistent in your work?
Continuous monitoring and evaluation. I stay flexible and adaptable in response to changing circumstances and maintain open and transparent communication with my team.
What do you do when you are away from your day to day work?
I enjoy quality family time.
What are your future goals?
I would like to prioritise my well-being and self-care in order to manage and maintain the focus needed to balance all areas of my life. I also want to continually build on my knowledge of relevant legal issues and current affairs.