Lagos lawyer and social commentator Inibehe Effiong has petitioned the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court Honourable Justice Kafarati on the restrictions placed on lawyers entering the court premises with their phones.
In a letter he captioned “Petition Against The Seizure Of Phones, Harassment And Undignified Treatment Of Lawyers By Security Officials At The Entrance Of The Federal High Court Abuja” Inibehe called the CJ’s attention to the harassment and undignifying manner with which security officials treat lawyers in the process of enforcing the order which they claim emanated from the office of the CJ.
The letter which was also copied to the President of the Nigerian Bar Association reads in part: “I am impelled to respectfully write to draw the attention of My Lord to the practice of seizing mobile phones and other communication gadgets from legal practitioners by security officials at the entrance/screening point of the Federal High Court premises in Abuja; as a precondition for allowing lawyers access into the main building of the Court.”
“In one occasion, I sought explanation from the security officials on the justification and basis for not allowing lawyers to carry their phones and other communication gadgets into the main building of the Court, I was told in a dismissive tone that the seizure of phones is based on “Order from above” and that it is a security policy of the Court.”
Calling the CJ’s attention to the fact that lawyers should not be treated as “security threats”, Inibehe wrote:
“My Lord, it is somewhat embarrassing that legal practitioners are being treated as “security threats” to the Temple of Justice where they are Ministers by virtue of their Call and Enrolment as Barristers and Solicitors of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.”
He also wondered why staff of the court were allowed to enter the court with their phones while lawyers are prohibited:
“Interestingly, staff of the Court are allowed to gain access to the Court with their phones but lawyers who are members of the Bar, an arm of the Nigerian Judiciary, are not.”
Beyond the embarrassment and ridicule of stopping lawyers from carrying their phones into the main court premises, Inibehe also highlighted some of the eminent reasons why lawyers should not be deprived of the use of their phones in the premises of the court.
“it is pertinent to note that lawyers have invariably been denied access to research and also prevented from attending to emergencies which may arise while they are inside the Court’s premises.”
“A lawyer who needs to meet with a Bailiff of the Court will be frustrated if he gets to the Bailiff Section only to realize that the particular Bailiff he wanted to meet with is not within sight. The lawyer will then have to go to the ground floor to retrieve his phone and call the Bailiff.”
“Also, where a lawyer is in court for a matter but realizes that the counsel on the other side is not inside the Court, such a lawyer will be handicapped from contacting his professional colleague over the phone to enquire about the latter’s where about.”
“A lawyer whose wife, child or other relation or client is in emergency situation will not be able to respond and attend to the situation because his phone which is the only means by which he could be contacted is not within reach, having been seized at the entrance of the Court.”
He prayed the court to consider the overwhelming need for lawyers to use their phone at the court premises and urged that restriction of phones inside the court room would suffice.
“I submit with respect that in this computer age where the world is a global village, phones have become indispensable.”
“By the ethics of our profession, the use of mobile phones and other communication gadgets are only restricted inside the Court when the Judge is sitting as doing otherwise may constitute contempt. The essence by my modest understanding is to prevent the disruption of Court proceedings.”
“I urge My Lord to look at this matter and do justice to it. It is a sad commentary that lawyers are being targeted by security officials in the court like other members of the society. Our professional prestige has been eroded by security officials who have been emboldened to confront, insult and denigrate any lawyer who dares to question them.”
“If medical doctors are allowed to carry their phones into the hospital; if teachers are allowed to carry their phones into school premises; if soldiers are allowed to carry their phones into the barracks, one wonders why lawyers in Nigeria are not allowed to carry their phones into the main building of the Federal High Court in Abuja.”
“I pray My Lord to find and hold that this policy or practice is totally indefensible, denigrating and amounts to an attack on the status of a legal practitioner.”