I am sorry to hear about the death of George Ayigihugu. I knew him personally and professionally. He was a fearless and indefatigable lawyer. In fact, for many years, he was the leading criminal defence lawyer in Uganda. I have no doubt that he fought long and hard and true to his larger than life personality that often dominated criminal trials.
Ayigihugu was a terror to prosecution witnesses, especially in controversial murder cases where he was often the advocate of choice. In the most difficult politically charged criminal trials, Ayigihugu was always the best defence lawyer to go to.
I stood in confrontation with Ayigihugu after the fall of the Amin dictatorship. Then, a lot of the criminals who butchered thousands of Ugandans under the Amin regime were arrested and put on trial. A unit within the DPP’s office was set up to try these crimes and I worked within it. Most of the prosecution of these criminals was led by the late Amos Twinomujuni and George Ayigihugu was the defence attorney for a good many of these criminals. Here I am talking about criminals like Bob Astles, Kassim Obura and many others that we managed to arrest before they escaped to Sudan. In most of these cases, as I was a very young lawyer, my role was that of Legal Researcher, that is to dig up the law for Twinomujuni and the others on the legal issues that came up day by day as the trials went on. I had the advantage because I was also the main Legal Assistant to Justice Manyindo when he presided over the trial of Bob Astles.
I was therefore in court almost daily during most of the trials of the Amin era criminals, a majority of them charged with gruesome crimes, mainly murder, rape,false imprionment and looting.. I really wanted these criminals to be be locked up in jail and spent almost two years of my career working purely on the trial of the Amin era criminals.( Later on, many of these criminals were to be released by Museveni while others like Edward Mulindwa escaped to Canada)
I therefore had the opportunity to see Ayigihugu in action. As a prosecution, all of our cases were often very throughly researched and prepared, but Ayigihugu was a tough opponent and his favourite tactic was one of bullying witnesses and hitting them below the belt. Although we succeeded in getting convictions for many of these criminals, Ayigihugu managed to get a few of them acquitted, regrettably, including Bob Astles.
Despite his constant battles with the prosecution team, Ayigihugu was always amiable and friendly to the prosecution team. He had become balding by then and had a fairly well-spoken beer belly as he seemed to be partial to his mwenge bigere and some of his buttons were always missing.
Ayigihugu was the best criminal defence lawyer we had during that era. The other thing to note about him is that he was probably the only Ugandan lawyer to specialise in just one field- Criminal Defence Law. He never ventured into other areas of law. That’s why he was permanently in court, from Magistrates courts right up to the Court of Appeal. He knew every CID police officer in Kampala and beyond. Ayigihugu would venture as far afield as Lira and Kitgum to defend people charged with murder- that was his speciality. He knew more about post-mortems than even the medical doctors. Sometimes, the lower courts would simply take his word for it when it came to identifying the cause of death. He was also strange in that he almost always exclusively practised as a sole partner. He had the capacity to expand his practice into a multi-partner legal practice, but he choose not to do so you could therefore blame him to this extent- that unlike Obol Ochola who trained several young lawyers including Omara Atubo, Rebecca Kadaga and to some extent myself, or Katende and Sempebwa or Hunter and Greig or Byamugisha %Co, who gave training opportunities to so many young lawyers, Ayigihugu sadly did not do this. He surely could have passed on his bullying and intimidating tactics to the younger generation of lawyers like myself, but he regrettably chose not to.
May be this is something that some of you can explain to me- why Ugandan lawyers have mainly chosen to practice as sole partners or at the maximum 3 or 4. I do not know when we will see the English or American style of Law Offices that have have 100 or more partners. This means they can specialise in almost every branch of the law. When I return to Uganda, I want to open a law office of at least 50 lawyers.
But one new development that Ugandan lawyers should be aware of, and which will wake them up from their slumber is the number of UK Law firms that are now opening branches in Africa. 7 of the top 10 law firms in the world are London based. 5 of these firms have now opened branches in East Africa, including Linklaters, Allen & Overy and Clifford Chance. They have gone around the difficulties that local law societies place in the way of foreign law firms by recruiting their staff from the citizens of African countries who have right of audience in these countries and therefore do not have to apply to be registered to appear say in the the Ugandan courts. These law firms normally identify very bright African law students in UK Universities, give them training contracts in their law firms so that they can qualify as practising Solicitors and then send them to their overseas branches in Africa.
Remember in the UK, after obtaining a law degree, you still have to do a 1 year course at Law School ( the toughest exam in the entire world, in any discipline, be it arts or science that I have ever done, ask anyone who has attempted it), but even after this, you must then do a 2 year training contract with a firm of Solicitors before you can get registered. It is at this stage that most Africans and foreigners generally fail to enter the legal profession because very few law firms are willing to give training contracts to black people. You will remember the story of the muganda boy who became the first African to get a first class law degree from Oxford 5 years ago? He was taken up by Clifford Chance, and after his training, was sent to the Dar es Salaam office for three years. He did so well there, and has been moved to the USA- I think the intention is to give him enough experience and exposure so that he can eventually become a partner controlling their operations in East Africa. My own daughter, soon to graduate from Oxford is also taking the same route, having been offered a training contract by Linklaters.
If these law firms continue to expand in Africa, especially in Uganda, they will take over most of the commercial and banking aspects of legal practice because the Ugandan law firms simply cannot compete against them in terms of the education and expertise and the resources and back-up that their country based lawyers would have at their disposal. I am not sure if the Law Society is aware of this threat. May be they should begin to think of ways to tighten up legal practice rules for foreign law firms.
Ayigihugu was a good lawyer and I personally will miss him