Some Anglophone lawyers in Cameroon have decried the continuous marginalization of English speaking lawyers, in a portion of the country’s Anglophone South West region.
English speaking lawyers in Cameroon practice Common Law. The country has a bilingual system, with English and French as official languages.
The two Anglophone minority regions use the Common Law judicial system. Meanwhile, Civil Law is the judicial system for the other eight Francophone regions.
Lawyers in Fako, a division in the English speaking South West, frown that Francophone magistrates continue to dominate their courts.
The Fako Lawyers’ Association (FAKLA) in a recent rally, lamented that the president recently appointed French speaking magistrates to courts in the English speaking regions.
Francophones do not have a proper mastery of the English Common Law system, they stressed. To the group of lawyers, the local population who use English as their main language of communication, bear the brunt of the Francophone domination.
It is “inflicting irreparable social and legal damage to the wellbeing of the inhabitants,” the association of lawyers said.
“We deplore in very strong, unequivocal and unapologetic terms, the appointment of French speaking, Non-Common Law trained magistrates, in the judiciary in Fako division, and call for their immediate replacement.”
Also, they decried the “continuous and almost exclusive use of French language” in key institutions in their region.
Why is this a big problem?
The recent anger of Anglophone lawyers, speaks volumes of the marginalisation of the English legal system in Cameroon. Their anger is believed to be the source of a close to four-year-long armed conflict, currently hitting the country’s two Anglophone regions.
This is not the first time Anglophone lawyers in Cameroon are denouncing Francophone domination of courts in the Anglophone zones.
As a matter of fact, in 2016, this set of lawyers were instrumental in organising street protests against the government. They opposed what they viewed as an attempt by a Francophone-dominated government to suppress the Anglophone legal system.
They criticized the fact that the government allowed French speaking magistrates to adjudicate court cases in French, to English speakers. So, they saw this as a disservice to inhabitants who did not speak or understand French.
The Anglophone lawyers’ demonstration inspired teachers of English speaking expression to organise a strike action. They disagreed with government’s appointment of Francophones to teach in Anglophone schools using the English language.
The strikes by these two professional corps in Anglophone Cameroon, provoked other citizens in the Anglophone regions to organize protests against the government. Meanwhile, some later took up arms, seeking to break away and form their own country, called “Ambazonia.”
Government Reneges on its promise to Anglophone lawyers
When Anglophone lawyers went on strike in 2016, the government made some concessions, and promised to uphold the Common Law for English speaking Cameroonians. But, it is seemingly not living up to its promise, Anglophone lawyers argue.
The government had embarked on a special training of Anglophone magistrates. The aim was to bridge the numerical gap between Anglophone and Francophone magistrates. The Anglophone magistrates were trained to serve courts in the English speaking zones.
Despite this, the lawyers say President Paul Biya, still retained French speaking magistrates in Anglophone courts in the South West, and appointed others to strategic positions.
The lawyers are eager for a change.To them, only English speaking magistrates should try Anglophones in court.
They equally hope for the Common Law system to take its rightful place in the country. However, it remains unclear when this will ever be achieved.