A Critique of Pro-bono Services in the Administration of Criminal Justice in Nigeria Ifeanyi Agwuncha

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PhotoCredit: Young Lawyers Blog

He arrives in his green outfit awaiting trial from Prison custody with the Holy Bible, The Word Amongst Us and other Prayer paraphernalia clutched to his hand, a Holy Rosary dangling on his neck. He is handcuffed. Tied to other inmates.

In a snail like movement they settle into the Court, momentarily enjoying “liberty” seeing faces outside their fellow inmates in Prison. Fresh air outside the polluted environment in the mad man’s asylum. Beautiful scenery and most importantly seeing the Sun. It is an “escape” coming to Court from the Prison Yard.

Abandoned in most cases by his family he founds himself as an orphan. Looking straight without seeing anything. A feeling of hopelessness. There is a Charge on his neck. He has no money to afford counsel.

The Judge steps into the Court. His case is called up. No legal representation. The Judge inquires where is your lawyer? He replies in a tone ladened with emotions that he has none. A dock brief ensues.

In most cases the most Senior lawyer is appointed. In some cases one with “experience “in handling criminal cases. In other cases a volunteer counsel gets assigned to do the case.

The pro-bono litigation is a tortuous one. At your expense you do the case, the accused person’s family hardly gets across to you. Not even the innocuous pleasantries to show a sign of concern.

It is made worse if you have to go to far places from the location of your office to the court of trial. It is a huge burden the pangs inestimable.

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Aside the bogus “justice ” and “service to humanity “, there are perks. For those desirous of being elevated to the inner bar, you need to show cases of this nature.

It is even doubtful if the inmates get quality legal representation from the lawyers who wish to represent them pro-bono. Some take the brief serious, others are lackadaisical about it.

Regretfully many a lawyer sees it as a mere routine caring less that someone’s liberty or life in capital offences is about to be breached.

In some cases the counsel obviously out of frustration abandons the defendant mid way. It is a risk. The accused fate like a dice gets entangled to anyone who steps forward to represent him.

The hassles of pro-bono litigation is also an indictment on the Bar Association, Legal aid, Government, who pay lip service to these category of citizens standing trial.

I believe there is so much to be done to make their representation worth the while and adequately compensate lawyers who are engaged in rendering such service.

So doing will ensure they get the best hands and save the pro-bono service from being an all comers affair with the lukewarm attitude in some or even most cases!

It must be borne in mind that the Lawyer is a man in business, with bills to pay. Thus anything to get him being serious must be worth the while.

We really need to address this!!!!

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