Ethics and Culture at the Bar II: Public interest litigation

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    Chief Bolaji Ayorinde SAN

    A Member of the Bar must be ready to take on briefs Pro bono publico, that is, briefs for the public good without charging any professional fees. One of my most satisfying cases was to assist a young Architect in the employment of the defunct NITEL. He was involved in a motor accident while on duty.

    He was a passenger in a NITEL Official Car when the accident occurred. After some treatment in the hospital at the expense of NITEL, he was laid off. He had lost one eye and he could not draw a straight line. You can imagine an Architect who could not draw a straight line.

    In a twist of fate he had become jobless and hopeless. I was delighted when the Lagos High Court finally entered Judgment in his favour. He was able to start a new life. We remain friends till this day.

    It is worthy of note that Applicants for the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria are now required to submit a list of Pro bono cases they have handled. Other ethical requirements include the lawyers’ duty to the Court, rules relating to relationships with clients and other lawyers, improper attraction of business and remuneration. I implore you to study these rules from time to time.

    Ethics, Culture and conduct also include Decorum and Dressing. As a junior once you sight the late Kehinde Sofola, SAN, CON approaching, you will immediately check yourself to ensure you were properly fitted out. Judges would refuse to see or hear badly dressed counsel in Court.

    Things have gone southwards. Lawyers now dress badly to Court. Lawyers dress badly on the Road. Lawyers dress badly in their Chambers.

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    This is unacceptable and should be looked into. I implore that all Local Bars set up Ethics, Culture, Decorum and Dressing Committees to ensure that good standards are kept and maintained. I also recommend an Ethical provision from the Indian Bar which is, another commonwealth jurisdiction. Indian Lawyers are strictly enjoined to ensure that they drop briefs when a client desires the Lawyer to engage in any unethical practice. This means that the desire for success should never tempt a lawyer to engage in untoward practice. After all, when the Lawyer gets into trouble, the Client quickly abandons him for another lawyer at the same or even lesser fees.

    We must not only focus on the discipline and punishment of erring lawyers but encourage the setting up of a Bar Standards Board. Such a Board will ensure that the profession is practiced at the highest quality level. Lawyers should be required to complete Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses to maintain and improve their skills.

    Our disciplinary measures should not only be limited to warnings or reprimands where the offending lawyer has not been found to be gravely wanting. Such situations should include directive that the erring lawyer compulsorily attend recognised CPD Courses and report to the Disciplinary Committee of the Bar.

    The promotion of ethics and culture is continuous. It never ends. New silks in Nigeria are given a Handbook titled Code of Dressing & Decorum for Senior Advocates of Nigeria (for Courtroom, Special Court Sessions & Ceremonial Occasions). I was privileged to serve on the committee that produced this Handbook on June 15, 2013. The Handbook remains a guide book for silks in Nigeria. It specifies the manner of the use of the working robe i.e Court dress, Ceremonial robes and the Black Rosette.

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    Let me share with you some other aspects of the Handbook:

    Lateness, courtesy

    If a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) arrives in Court after the judge has begun sitting and his case has been called, he should offer an apology to the Court and give an explanation for his lateness. Respect for the Judge and his authority remains a mark of leadership for members of the inner bar.

    Courtroom

    When the Courtroom is congested, and other lawyers are standing, it is good leadership at the Bar to be magnanimous with privileges and allow standing Counsel (especially the older ones) to sit, to the extent possible; and with the indulgence of the Judge and other Senior Advocates. This is not mandatory, but simply a matter of discretion. Altercation between SANs (for instance as to seniority or sequence of privileges) should be avoided in open Court or to the hearing of junior counsel and non-lawyers. Courtesy to opposing Counsel, irrespective of age and status at the bar remains a hallmark of leadership and finesse.

    Overall carriage

    Members of the Inner Bar should at all times carry themselves in a reserved manner, with a degree of calm, civil and gentle manners as depict their leadership positions at the Bar. This includes dressing appropriately at all other times even outside of the Court premises, and treatment of persons generally. It must always be remembered that every member of Inner Bar is somewhat an Ambassador (for good or bad) of all other members.

    I recommend that a similar Handbook be produced for the entire Bar and in particular the new entrants. The NBA should ensure that all lawyers should have copies.

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    We have a duty to ensure that the Bar maintains the highest Ethical Standards so that the future generation of lawyers will continue to practice our beloved profession with the highest standards. Our efforts today will guarantee a future for the legal profession. Let me end with a Greek proverb which says: “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”

    Culled: A speech by Chief Bolaji Ayorinde (SAN) at the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Ibadan Branch Annual Law Dinner held at Aare Afe Babalola (SAN) Bar Centre, Ibadan.


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