THE field of law has always been a subject of debate. A lot of people think it is an honorary field, while others believe it is a field where sooner or later one will eventually unveil the bad side.
The truth is, the profession started on an honorable note, but like everything in life, wickedness seeps into every way of life, causing turbulence and imbalance, but as the saying goes ‘Nothing, or rather no one is perfect’.
The judicial system in the state of Kuwait, as a whole, is just. The issue lies on the very fact that some lawyers have lost their sense of direction and would go after easy money rather than delivering what gave birth to this profession in the first place — justice.
With over three decades of experience in the field of law Attorney Zaid Al-Azmi has seen it all — the good, the bad and the ugly — but remains firmly rooted in his belief that justice one day prevails and that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law. This prevents him from going off the track but marches forward because as he puts it, the issue is not with the system, but the factors that play the vital role in every legal equation.
Question: Before we proceed tell us something about yourself.
Answer: My name is Zaid Khalaf Al-Azmi, I graduated in 1984 and worked for a couple of law firms until 1986 before founding my own law firm. I currently have 6 lawyers, 2 advisors and 3 paralegals working for my firm.
Q: What does your firm specialize in?
A: I handle all kind of cases because I believe every case is unique in its own way, from civil to commercial disputes, every case is taken and studied individually. If you want to talk about specialization, I believe there is no such thing in Kuwait, it’s a small country and a large number of law firms compared to the population structure.
Q: Give us an insight into the field of law in Kuwait.
A: People have to understand that there are major areas of law and any law firm will have an executive branch to follow up regulations. For instance, when a non-Kuwaiti enters Kuwait, he or she must be on a certain visa. Visiting visas are of several kinds, and each kind has its own set of regulations like you are prohibited from renting a car from any place other than an official rental office, or you cannot practice any kind of business.
The working visiting visa whether private or public on the other hand also has a set of regulations, like in the private sector you cannot begin work unless your employer has successfully issued you a residence permit; in the public sector the set of regulations are different from the private sector.
These regulations and processes entail the law must be conceived as a measure to protect the individual from other legal complications that might arise at any point in time.
I also want to point out that anyone who is planning to visit the State of Kuwait must go through the laws of the land because laws vary from one country to another.
I say this because I once took the case of a European who visited Kuwait after visiting Amsterdam. Now in Amsterdam, weed is legal and is sold openly in markets. The person visited Kuwait and had some weed on him which he had purchased from Amsterdam. As expected, he was arrested at the airport and referred to the Prosecution.
I am not saying this of the European or other Westerner visitors only, I am directing this to everyone, even Arabs, as there are laws that they are unfamiliar with, like the law that prohibits carrying gold that is not intended for personal use.
Q: Can you shed light on an expatriate who has become a victim of a legal hassle. If yes, what should he or she do first?
A: First of all, the individual must head to his or her embassy and seek legal advice. Unfortunately, not every embassy is cooperative, as I have come across several that do not even help its community in legal matters.
This is the legal awareness that I was talking about because legal awareness in a foreign country acts like a protective barrier from legal complications. I have always been an advocate of legal awareness campaigns, but sadly we do not have such a thing in Kuwait, but this does not stop lawyers from putting up a legal awareness website for expatriates, or create a social media account for the same purpose.
Back to the individual that has fallen victim to a legal case, if the visit to the embassy does not bear any fruit, your best bet is to seek advice from a respected lawyer.
Q: But some expatriates do not have the financial capability to hire a lawyer, what then?
A: In principle, seeking legal advice from any lawyer is free of charge, and if principle isn’t good enough, the Kuwait Lawyers Association mandates legal help they even provide you with a lawyer if needed without any financial strings attached unlike a lot of other countries.
Money only comes into the equation when there is an actual case at hand and every lawyer has his own way of approaching it. Personally, speaking after giving legal advice to the client, I assess the case and figure out whether the case would bear any financial fruits for the client and I would get a small percentage.
In other cases such as criminal, if the individual does not have the financial capability to hire a lawyer, the courts will provide one. If you think about it, the bottom line of the matter is that it is all up to the personal preference of the individual, whether they would prefer a personal lawyer or not, as long as they are given sufficient legal advice over the issue because the law is just.
Q: Lawyers always assert that justice is always delivered and everyone’s right is protected. How do you look at it?
A: The system is lawful, and the judiciary is just, but you still have to prove it. By the end of the day, the judge is only a human being like anyone else. If you claim someone owes you a sum of money, you will have to prove it, if a person was unlawfully put into jail, he has to prove it, and this is where your lawyer comes to play.
He has to do whatever is necessary to prove that you are not guilty. It is unfortunate there are some lawyers who are dishonest because after taking the fees they ‘abandon’ the client and the case fizzles out. That is why in many cases although an individual is innocent, he/she ends up behind bars either because of the weakness of the lawyer or because the lawyer missed on some vital evidence that could have tilted the case in favor of his client.
Simply put, the lawyer must collect all the necessary evidence by exhausting every possible means, even if he has to act like a detective and collect the evidence himself from concerned bodies in order to win the case.
Even if all the evidence is submitted and good enough to prove the innocence, the case is lost sometimes because of the negligence of the lawyer.
At this point an individual must turn around to the lawyer and sue him or her for negligence and demand compensation in the same court.
Q: Is there some sort of system in place that addresses negligence of lawyers?
A: Yes, whether it’s a civil or criminal case, if your case was lost due the negligence of your lawyer, this system will make sure that the lawyer is dealt with properly.
The lawyers’ disciplinary and sanctions committee at the Kuwait Lawyers Association is dedicated to deal with such cases at an advisory level, and if that does not solve the issue due to unforeseen complications, there is always the Public Prosecution where there is a specialized department that is dedicated to cases against lawyers.
Q: A lot of people claim that there is corruption in the judiciary. Do you agree with this?
A: As a system, there is no corruption, but yes there is a lot of corruption in other authorities within the government but not in the judiciary. Throughout the history of Kuwaiti law, not one judge was caught in any kind of legal case even public prosecutors are under heavy disciplinary supervision as they are future judges.
For example, one prosecutor was caught in a dispute at one of the country’s resorts; the prosecutor was reported to be arrogant and used his position to strengthen his point of argument, not long after the incident the prosecutor was fired due to his public behavior.
The judiciary assures that all its judges are the best people since it is crucial for a judge to be humble in public or else his/her position as a judge is lost.
On the other hand, when it comes to lawyers, it is easy for you to find those who are corrupt, and they are abundant. I have come across a number of lawyers who are caught in various cases, including those convicted for money laundering; financial disclosure cases and some were even caught in cases of treason and financing terrorist groups.
Q: Are there lawyers specialized to look into lawyer’s negligence?
A: No, the Public Prosecution deals with these cases directly, considering its role as protector of the public from corruption, but as for a lawyer that only holds cases that are against another lawyer due to malpractice of negligence, no there is none.
Q: It is an undisputed fact that the country is facing an issue of corruption, what do you think?
A: It’s because we are humans, every country in the world faces this issue, and it’s a question of how hard each country is fighting this phenomenon. There are countries which are corrupt and it is no secret but the people remain tight-lipped. At least here in Kuwait, the people know and work to fight it and we have even established the Public Authority for Anti Corruption.
If you’re asking how should the people help? It’s simple, just go to Public Prosecution and your case will be heard. Recently, there was a case about a citizen who was tortured by officers at the Criminal Investigation Department and as a result he died. A case was filed against the officers and six of them were prosecuted, two of whom were sentenced to death. So when it comes to corruption, the concerned authorities do not falter, and if you think about it, corruption is only a product of how an individual was brought up.
Q: What is the role of the Kuwait Lawyers Association?
A: It should be in charge of spreading legal awareness to the public and ensure that everyone knows their legal rights. But sadly, KLA is not doing any of it; the association in its current state is simply working to manage law firms and tending to their needs.
It does not have the executive power to enforce any judgment on anything, even the lawyers disciplinary and sanctions committee is constricted to submitting recommendations to the disciplinary judge at the Public Prosecution.
Q: Is it true that money can buy justice?
A: Definitely not. There have been numerous cases that I have come across where the client is rich but still lost the case.
Q: What should one keep in mind when dealing with lawyers?
A: You should thoroughly read the contract between you and your lawyer; you have to ensure that it is clear and comprehensive, and does not contain terminologies that you might not understand. When the case has been dealt with, you must make sure to cancel the contract and terminate the lawyer’s power of attorney, but that is a matter of personal preference.
Q: A recent survey has shown that around 85 percent of students graduating with law degrees flock to the private sector and work for law firms, why do you think the reason is?
A: It’s because they cannot find jobs in other sectors due to insufficient experience or simply because there are no openings. If they cannot get a position as a public defendant at the Ministry of Justice or investigators at the Ministry of Interior and other ministries, the only choice is to get employed in a law firm if they want to practice law. Plus, they would be entitled to the labor support salary.
Q: Tell us about the recent developments in the field of law.
A: There has been a lot of improvement and development in the field of law, from training and increasing competency in order to assure a high quality of future judges, to the comprehensiveness and inclusion of new legislations.
But legislations are never perfect, there is always going to be a gap or a loophole that only judges and those who practice the profession can identify, therefore submitting requests for amendments until the law is affective enough.
It’s not the country’s legislations and laws that create issues for the people, especially expats, it’s the ministerial decisions and decrees that are issued without sufficient studies.
Some decisions that have been issued are creating more complications than solving issues, not to mention the contradictory decrees.
For instance, the government has issued a directive that allows expats to own houses in Kuwait, and then another decree is issued to limit the visiting visa period from three months to one month. These decisions will not help make Kuwait a financial hub; it just makes people run away.
Q: What do you think should be done in order to avoid these complications?
A: The higher counsel in the government must issue a decree that obligates every ministry to coordinate with each other whenever one is planning to issue a certain decree, therefore avoiding contradictions and complications, as these kinds of issues directly affect the public, even if the solution is simple!
What is your message to the public?
A: I would want to say, that every expatriate who arrives in Kuwait for the first time, must head to their respective embassies and get briefed on the laws of the country. The embassies in Kuwait must also provide a service that helps its community when it comes to legal matters, and ensure that they are legally well informed.
As for lawyers and everyone in the field of law, it is their duty to create legal awareness among the public. Finally, I’m not going to deny the fact that there are people that have lost their rights in Kuwait, but I am going to say that justice is always delivered as long as there is a voice that demands it.
Attorney Zaid Khalaf Al-Azmi
Founder of Kuwaitia Law Firm, he graduated from the Kuwait University in 1984 and has specialized in Advocacy, Arbitration and Legal consultation. He holds a license to represent clients in all Kuwaiti courts including the Court of Cassation and the Constitutional Court.
A Member of the Kuwait Lawyers Society and a registered Arbitrator in the Arbitration Center of Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry, he is also member of the Commercial Arbitration Center of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
By Ahmed Al-Naqeeb
Arab Times Staff