On behalf of an unqualified lawyer

Avec le soutien de

Every year, law schools churn out dozens of graduates who join the profession to practise in Mauritius among a big hype and lofty expectations. The media gives them a lot of coverage and parents justifiably proudly pose with their newly graduated children. There is no other profession that attracts the same amount of attention.

Qualified lawyers register with the Mauritius Bar Council to be licensed to practise. A few of the licensed lawyers end up in legal firms and manage to scrape a living. Most can’t even pay the rent for the offices they occupy and can’t assert themselves on the legal scene. They need a lot of time and practice to begin to acquire the confidence which comes with a deep knowledge of the law, with acquired experience in the field. As for talking to the media, you can count on one hand the number of lawyers who are articulate and knowledgeable enough to hold a public conversation.

In the middle of this reality, a young man – Yuvan Sungkur – stood out and joined Lawyer Rama Valayden’s team to embark – pro bono let’s not forget – on one of the most challenging legal cases currently in front of our courts: alleged drug trafficking with political overtones. The case was made that much more challenging because public opinion, fed on selected information from the police, had already tried the accused couple. If public forums were a court of law, the couple would already be in jail, no questions asked.

Undeterred, the young ‘lawyer’ joined the fray and must have impressed the experienced lawyers – called ‘Avengers’ – so much so that he was given deferential treatment and was pushed into the limelight to answer legal questions. Which he did with such confidence that left everyone impressed.

Nor did young Yuvan disappoint when called upon to give radio interviews. He knew the law inside out, spoke with confidence, loquaciousness and humility. He made the legal points he was called to weigh in on with ease and effortlessness. I remember thinking this is the kind of youth we should nurture in this country. Smart, elegant, knowledgeable and self-assured.

The next thing we knew was that our Yuvan is not a lawyer at all and that he had not gone beyond the first year of law school! What is sad is that the talent we all saw – since none of us could ever have guessed that Yuvan was not a qualified lawyer – had not been allowed to come to its full potential because of financial constraints. A heartbreaking story.

But Yuvan didn’t give up. His passion for law continued through his books which he continued to read assiduously. He also offered help to his friends and even accompanied them to court. And it is while supporting one of his friends in court – morally and through informal legal advice – that he somehow found his way to a legal team comprising eminent lawyers and – hold your breath – former Chief Justice Eddy Balancy! No mean feat you must admit.  

I am not suggesting that the legal profession should become a jungle where whoever thinks they are good at defending suspects can just join the fray. There is a reason why there are bar exams and a Bar Association.  Unqualified practice exposes the public to the risk of poor legal advice, representation and deception and damages the reputation of the profession. What I am saying is that the Yuvans of this world should not be reduced to cheating to be able to slake their thirst for their passion. It is unfair!

The courts will naturally do what they have to do in the case of Yuvan Sungkur, perhaps taking into account his plight. But beyond what happens in court, I hope this rather odd occurrence encourages some firms to sponsor his education so he can enter the profession of his dreams through the big door. There are few things as heart wrenching as seeing talent and potential go to waste because of lack of money! I know this appeal does not fall on deaf ears.

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