Ms. Angham Murshid: “Ordinary citizens unfortunate enough to go to court get frustrated and lose faith in the whole judicial system.” [Archives:1998/26/Interview]

June 29 1998

Ms. Angham Murshid is a lawyer at the Supreme Court and is one of the founding members of the Syndicate of Yemeni Lawyers. Graduating with B.A. in Law in 1987 from the University of Aden, she got permission to practice law from the minister of justice in the southern part of Yemen – new appointments were suspended at that time.
Before starting her professional life in earnest, Ms. Murshid spent three months of training at the primary court, six months at the court of appeal, and two years at the supreme court. Moreover, she received valuable training in private law practices at the hands of famous Yemeni lawyers such as Mr. Sheikh Tareq Abdullah and Mr. Ali Zayn.
The legal profession Yemen, and many other parts of the world for that matter, is considered a male bastion. So it is quite a feat for a woman to conquer and excel in this world. More so in Yemen, considering that is still a very traditionalist society.
To know more about life for female lawyers in Yemen, Dr. Salah Haddash talked to Ms. Murshid and filed the following interview. Excerpts:
Q: What sort of problems do you face in your professional life as a female lawyer?
A: Frankly speaking, professional women did not face any problems to speak of working in the southern part of Yemen. It was quite natural then for a woman to work as a lawyer, or to have any other profession for that matter.
However, following the unification of the country, the laying-off of some judges, and bringing in others from other governorates who are not used to dealing with female lawyers, life started to become harder for us. This reached the level of landing into trouble with some judges who just refuse to recognize women as lawyers. But we are determined to continue with our work and make them accept our existence.
Q: The Lawyers Syndicate always seems to plagued with problems. Why is that?
A: Quite a few lawyers refused to take part in the Lawyers Syndicate’s second on 1995 because they objected to some articles of the Advocacy Law. The main point of contention was that the law allows a lawyer to practice more than one profession; while, we wanted to keep the legal profession pure with strong traditions.
It must be appreciated that a military or a security officer, for instance, cannot be allowed to practice law – combining a public and private posts. A security officer, say, can use his personal contacts and insider knowledge in favor of his client in a court of law. This would of course be a gross violation of the professional ethics, but it can happen.
Many people have come down to Aden lately. They are army and security personnel or new law graduates, who claim to be lawyers just by obtaining a license to practice law. This should never be allowed, a great conflict would ensue. There are now about 20 people only in Aden who practice law as their sole profession.
Q: Following unification, the laws were changed to be more compatible with the northern, more economically liberal legislations. How did you adapt with this change, considering that you were trained on a different legal system altogether?
A: It is true that I studied a social-system set of rules and regulations, like almost all lawyers from this part of world. Quite a few lawyers found it hard to adapt; however, I was also trained by some very experienced Yemeni lawyers who studied in Cairo or London. This enabled me to grasp the universal basics of the law better than others.
So I did not face much difficulty in understanding the new laws. We studied mainly theoretical stuff such as tedious comparisons between the social and the capitalist legal systems. They never taught us much practical lessons such as the simple procedure of filing an ordinary law suit. We acquired that by hard work at the courts.
Q: Could you tell us what sort of cases that mainly come before the Aden courts?
A: Things are difficult now in the courts of Aden. People there are just not used to dealing with such a prevalence of corruption and favoritism. Ordinary citizens unfortunate enough to go to court get frustrated and lose faith in the whole judicial system.
Moreover, judges have no personal protection, often finding themselves vulnerable to threats and intimidation by powerful and influential defendants. Like every other human being, a judge needs to live his life in a normal manner. This is when it is necessary for the state to put down strict legislations to protect the judges and guarantee them a decent living.
Yemen has some very competent and distinguished judges. But these are also open to disappointments and frustrations, if they – after all these years of the serving their country – find themselves unable to have a decent home or a salary large enough to provide good living for their families.
Courts should also be provided with large budgets so that they will be able to deal with the huge backlog of cases.
Q: How do police stations and prosecutor offices deal with female lawyers?
A: After the 1994 war, a gradual deterioration started to set in regarding this matter. The ruling authorities must intervene to put an end to this state of anarchy and disrespect of the law.
A person following a court cases may or may not bee able to see it through. Even if the plaintiff gets his or her rights, it happens after such a long and hard time that a lot of financial and emotional resources are lost.
Q: Do cases in Aden courts have a different character to those in other parts of the country? Are there any blood revenge cases, for example?
A: Most of the case brought before the courts in Aden are to do with housing issues and the ownership of shops and other concerns. The Presidential Office and the Council of Ministers have both directed that all business property nationalized by the former socialist regime in the south must be returned to its rightful owners.
The problem is that the greatest part of the nationalized property is given to small traders or beneficiaries as they were then called. Once this property is privatized again, they will find themselves having to pay bigger rents or get evicted. If the decision to denationalize is extended to residential property, then government employees with very limited income, presently occupying these homes, will find themselves in a real predicament.
Due to the continuous rise in the prices of basic food commodities, living in Aden, or in any other part of Yemen for that matter, is becoming increasingly difficult.
Q: Who levies the rent on the nationalized residential property?
A: It is the Ministry of Housing, which takes the rent in two or three annual installments. It used to be spread over a larger number of installments, but government employees benefiting from this property pay the rent because they have no other alternatives.
Q: Are the courts able to deal efficiently with these problems?
A: The problem is compounded by the fact that these properties were handed out by decrees. The first was issued in 1982 giving homes for a rent of one Dinar to their occupants and the second is Law No. 18 of 1991, which grants the Ministry of Housing the power to give ownership.
Problems start when the original owners claim their business property back. The previous housing laws had effectively given ownership to the ‘beneficiaries.’ Courts now in Aden also insist on bringing in the Ministry of Housing as a third party.
To make matters more complicated, the political upheavals in the 1970s and 1980s in the south drove many beneficiaries to abandon the property they were given and flee to the north. The state gave this property to other people during the absence of the former. Many years later they come demanding their property. The current occupants may not even know who lived there before them.
Q: Do the current occupants have any proof that they were given the property by the state?
A: No, they were given the property according to the social register at the Ministry of Housing. It is not an ownership certificate or a land deed as such. The land deed holders are mainly the people who fled during the political trouble in the south.
Q: I understand that you also run a charitable association. Could you tell us about that?
A: The Bara’um Society was established in 1995. It is run by seven people, but boasts a membership of several kindergarten principals and teachers. I joined this organization because I felt that children are denied many of their human rights.
We organized a number of exhibitions and other charity and fund-raising activities.