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Court Orders Lawyer Okalang to Refund Client's Money :: Uganda Radionetwork

Court Orders Lawyer Okalang to Refund Client's Money

Okalang was found liable for failure to lodge a caveat on the certificate of title and the Council ruled that he had a duty to ensure that the caveat is lodged.
01 Mar 2024 11:56
Justice Musa Ssekaana made the decision.
A panel of three High Court Judges sitting in Kampala has ordered Lawyer  Robert Okalang to refund at least 5,300 United States Dollars he received from his Canadian client Thomas Dale.

The Civil Division Judges comprised of  Musa Ssekaana the head of the Division, his Deputy Emmanuel Baguma and Dr Douglas Singiza unanimously agreed that Okalang must refund the money in United States of America dollars as opposed to Canadian Dollars.

Records before Court show that Dale approached Okalang in August 2012 whom he instructed to file a lawsuit against ‘the Sanctuary’ (CBO) to help him recover the money he had invested in the operations of the CBO as a donor.

Dale furnished all the email correspondences between himself and the Sanctuary’ where the latter were admitting to the loan facility and making endless promises to pay back but in vain to which Okalang admitted that this was adequate evidence to sustain a suit against them.

According to the records, Dale first paid Okalang legal fees amounting to USD 1,100 to register a caveat on the Certificate of Title of ‘the Sanctuary’ which Okalang failed, neglected, or ignored to do. Secondly,  records further show that Dale paid Okalang 4200 Canadian Dollars as retainer/instruction fees to file a lawsuit against ‘the Sanctuary’ which a civil suit has never filed to date.

Dale contended that he incurred costs and losses on account of Okalang’s professional negligence, psychological torture, endless flights among others. He then petitioned the Law Council and prayed for punitive action against Okalang and also to be ordered to refund USD 5,300 with an interest thereon at commercial rate, refund of costs and losses incurred.

In its decision, the  Disciplinary Committee of the Law Council found that Okalang unreasonably delayed the work and did not exercise due care and skill to ensure that the caveat was lodged.

Okalang was found liable for failure to lodge a caveat on the certificate of title and the Council ruled that he had a duty to ensure that the caveat was lodged.

"He failed to follow up from the date of filing of the caveat in November 2012 until September 2018 (an entire 6 years)",  reads the documents. 

According to the documents, the Law Council did not agree that there were issues at the office of Registrar of Titles for six years hindering lodgement or attendance to Thomas Dale's caveat as Okalang had stated. This they said is because had it been true, Okalang would have reported back to the client but not to sit and keep quiet. 

The Council further found that Okalang made intentional misrepresentations to his client that led to his detriment and which was clearly in breach of his duties to his client. Further, it was found that Okalang did not perform his part of the bargain as an advocate and that the acts and omissions of Okalang in as far as deceit, failure to act in time, and breach of duty to his client amounted to professional misconduct on his part.

As a consequence, Okalang was ordered to refund all the money Dale paid to him or received concerning the activities complained of. Thomas Dale was further awarded general damages of  1,000,000 shillings and punitive damages of 500,000 Shillings .

Dissatisfied with the decision and findings of the Law Council, Okalang appealed to the High Court .

In his grounds among others, he said the Disciplinary Committee erred in law in finding him guilty of conduct unbecoming of an Advocate and/or professional misconduct when he had acted as a prudent Advocate given the circumstances.

During the Appeal proceedings,  Okalang said he had remitted to Thomas Dale through their engagement a sum of 5,300 USD which is the equivalent of 7,150 Canadian Dollars. 

Therefore, according to him, the amount claimed by Thomas Dale to be in Canadian dollars and not American dollars was a factual mistake as some funds were received in Canadian Dollars. 

In their ruling, the Judges ruled that Dale's claims were converted by the Law Council in United States Dollars as set out in the complaint and the mistake of being given a refund in Canadian dollars reduces the award and defeats the clear intention of the Law Council.

"This court is satisfied that the error of making the award or refund in Canadian dollars instead of American dollars was a manifest mistake and when the correction is decided on the court cannot stand. It would only be fair that the court gives effect to the clear intention derived from the evidence on record that the cross-appellant(Thomas Dale)is entitled to a refund of USD 5,300 and not CAD, 5300", reads the decision.

Okalang 's appeal was dismissed with costs and directed to refund the money in American Dollars.

This case is one of those rare civil cases that require a full panel of three High Court Judges to adjudicate one appeal since it is against a decision from the Law Council. 

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