REVISITING SENIORITY & ORDER OF PRECEDENCE IN THE LEGAL PROFESSION IN THE LIGHT OF MR. CHUKS OKONKWO’S BALLET-DANCE IN THE HIGH COURT OF ENUGU, SITTING AT OJI-RIVER
A couple of days ago, my attention was drawn to a treatise apparently written by an “Author Unknown” but later discovered to have been actually authored by one on of our professional colleagues, “Mr. Chuks Okonkwo,” said to be of the Ikeja NBA Branch. In that beautiful treatise, Mr. Okonwko had narrated with pride, how he had boldly and fearlessly challenged both a High Court Judge and Senior Advocate of Nigeria in the High Court of Enugu State, sitting at Oji River, Enugu State. The reason for Mr. Okonkwo`s complaint and actions were summed up in the treatise:
“I was in court and the court was about to sit. We had taken our seats when suddenly the Court Registrar asked those of us seated in the front row to vacate out seats, that a SAN was coming. We did. Five minutes later, the judge came in ad the Registrar called up the matter involving the SAN who was the Attorney-General & Commissioner for Justice under Sullivan Chime Esq. His name is Anthony Ani, SAN. The SAN announce his appearance and the on the other side did the same. As these were going on, I quickly scanned the Cause List and noticed that no matter was listed for Mention on the Cause List. I then stood up….”
I hope I got him well, but I think I could, in my own words, summarize Mr. Okonkwo`s actions in this way: he then stood up and complained bitterly, but respectfully, to the judge, in open court, as follows:
“(1) Since the matter involving the Learned Silk (number 8 on the Cause List) was not listed for mention, the learned silk was not entitled to have called his case out of turn. And the judge ought to not have allowed the Silk to call the case out of turn; (2) The Registrar was wrong to have driven Mr Okonkwo and the other lawyers seated on the front row out of their seats just so that the learned silk could sit. Such action of the Registrar was embarrassing and was capable of belittling the affected lawyers before their own clients; and (3) The actions of the court, first, in having ordered that Mr Okonkwo and his colleagues should vacate the front row seats for the SAN, and, second, in having allowed the Learned Silk to mention out of tun, a case that was not listed for mention, was injustice against Mr Okonwko and the other junior counsel in court on that day.”
The present commentary is aimed to respectfully analyze this particular incident which happened, as narrated by Mr. Okonkwo himself, with a view to determining to what extent (if any) each of Mr. Okonkwo, the judge, the Learned Silk and the Court Registrar could be said to be justified or otherwise in their respective actions on that day especially in the light of extant provisions of law, professional legal ethics, the tradition of the legal profession in Nigeria.
Position of Extant Law on the Subject
Section 6 (1) & (2) of the Legal Practitioners Act (LPA), Cap L11, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 provides as follows:
“(1) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act but subject as provided in section 8 (5) and the First Schedule hereto, all courts of law in Nigeria before which legal practitioners are entitled to appear shall accord to every law officer specified in this section, the following rights and privileges, that is to say- (a) the exclusive right to sit in the inner bar or, where no facilities exist for an inner bar, on the front row of seats available for legal practitioners; and (b) the right to mention any motion in which he is appearing or any other cause or matter which is on the list for mention and not otherwise listed for hearing out of its turn on the cause list. (2) The law officers to whom this section applies are the Attorney-General of the Federation, the Attorney-General of any State in the Federation and the Solicitor-General of the Federation”
Judging by the provisions of section 6 of the Legal Practitioners Act, it would appear that the right to call a case out-of-turn is available only where the case or motion is listed for mention and not otherwise, while the right itself is subject to the court’s discretion. Further, Senior Advocates of Nigeria are not among the persons listed in section 6 (2) of the LPA as persons for whose benefit the privileges provided in the section enure. But this is not the end of the discussion because a closer look at section 6 (1) shows that the subsection itself is made to apply only “subject to” the provisions of section 8(5) LPA and of the First Schedule to the LPA, with the result that both the provisions of section 8 (5) LPA and the provisions of the First Schedule to the LPA must prevail over the provisions of section 6, in cases of conflict. Section 8(5) LPA provides that “legal practitioners appearing before any court, tribunal or person exercising jurisdiction conferred by law to hear and determine any matter (including an arbitrator) shall take precedence among themselves according to the table of precedence set out in the First Schedule to this Act.” The “Table of Precedence” (Order of Precedence) in the Legal Profession is as follows:
- The Attorney-General of the Federation.
- The Attorneys-General of the States in order of seniority as Senior Advocates of Nigeria and thereafter in order of seniority of enrolment.
- Life Benchers
- Senior Advocates of Nigeria in order of seniority.
- Persons authorized to practice as legal practitioners by virtue of paragraph (b) of subsection (3) of section 2 of the LPA.
- Persons whose names are on the roll in order of seniority of enrolment.
- Persons authorized to practice by warrant.
(see section 6(3) LPA and the First Schedule to the LPA)
Finally, on this point, Rule 26 (2) of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners, 2007 commands lawyers to observe and respect the order of precedence, notwithstanding the notion of equality at the Bar. The Rule provides that “lawyers shall observe among one another the rules of precedence as laid down by law, and subject to this, all lawyers are to be treated on the basis of equality of status.”
Please note the following:
- For the purposes of this table, orders of seniority shall be ascertained by reference to the date of the relevant instrument, appointment, first enrolment or warrant (the earlier the date, the greater the seniority) and, in the case of persons taking seniority within the same category from the same date m such manner as the Chief Justice may direct. See the First Schedule to the LPA;
- Although the First Schedule of the Legal Practitioners Act omitted the Life Members of the Body of Benchers (Life Benchers) from the Table/Order of Precedence, yet section 6 (3) Legal Practitioners Act is to the effect that Life Members of the Body of Benchers are entitled to be accorded the rights and privileges as are conferred on Attorneys-General and therefore must take precedence in court accordingly. Section 6(3) provides that “the rights and privileges conferred on the law officers by subsection (1) of this section shall also be accorded to any member of the Body of Benchers.”
- Right to call a case out-of-turn in court is not absolute; it is exercisable only subject to the convenience and discretion of the court. However, there is no doubt that where the court is favorably so disposed, the court or judge possesses inherent powers to grant to any (senior) counsel appearing before it the privilege to call his case out of turn, whether the case is for mention or for hearing (of a motion or of the substantive matter). This is the best interpretation to be accorded a combined reading/effect of sections 6 and 8 LPA, and of the First Schedule to the LPA. Exercise of the court`s discretion in this respect is unquestionable.
Meaning & Scope of The Inherent Powers of a Superior Court of Law
The origin of the doctrine of “inherent jurisdiction/powers” dates back to 1840, when Baron Alderson declared in the English case of Cocker v. Tempest (1841) 7 M & W 502, 503-504 that, “the power of each court over its own processes is unlimited; it is a power incident to all courts, inferior as well as superior; were it not so, the court would be obliged to sit still and see its own process abused for the purpose of injustice.” Then, in Halsbury’s Laws of England, “inherent jurisdiction/powers” is described as a residual source of powers, which the court may draw upon as necessary whenever it is just or equitable to do so. On its part, Wikipedia defines the term, “inherent jurisdiction of a superior court” as follows:
“a doctrine of the English common law that a superior court has the jurisdiction to hear any matter that comes before it, unless a statute or rule limits that authority or grants exclusive jurisdiction to some other court or tribunal. …….. In the English case of Bremer Vulkan Schiffbau und Maschinenfabrik v. South India Shipping Corporation Ltd, Lord Diplock described the court’s inherent jurisdiction as a general power to control its own procedure so as to prevent its being used to achieve injustice. Inherent jurisdiction appears to apply to an almost limitless set of circumstances. …. the exercise of inherent jurisdiction is a broad doctrine allowing a court to control its own processes and to control the procedures before it. The power stems not from any particular statute or legislation, but rather from inherent powers invested in a court to control the proceedings brought before it.”
In Nigeria, the doctrine is codified in section 6(6)(a) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended which provides that “the judicial powers vested in accordance with the foregoing provisions of this section – (a) shall extend, notwithstanding anything to the contrary in this constitution, to all inherent powers and sanctions of a court of law.” In Akilu v. Fawehinmi (No 2), His Lordship, Hon Justice Nnaemeka-Agu. J.S.C. explained the meaning and scope of “inherent jurisdiction” in the following words:
“…. What is the nature of inherent power of a Court of law? When will it be rightly invoked? In my judgment inherent jurisdiction or inherent power (as it is more commonly called) of Court is that which is not expressly spelt out by the Constitution, or in any statute or rule but which can, of necessity, be invoked by any court of record to supplement its express jurisdiction and powers. It is a most valuable adjunct to the express jurisdiction or powers conferred on our courts of record by the Constitution, any law, or rule of court. … an inherent power, nebulous as it usually is, does not extend the jurisdiction of a court of record. Rather it practically lubricates its statutory jurisdiction and makes it work. Lord Morris summarized the rationale of it all in Connelly V. D. P. P. (1964) A.C. 1254 at 1301 where he stated: There can be no doubt that a Court which is endowed with a particular jurisdiction has powers which are necessary to enable it to act effectively within such jurisdiction. Courts, in proper cases, use their inherent jurisdiction to control persons, say, in cases of contempt of court; to control processes, such as when they strike out actions which are frivolous or vexatious or an abuse of process (see Palmer V Stooke & Anor. (1953)14 W.A.C.A. 333; and to control inferior courts and tribunals, say, when they order stay of proceedings. Cases in which the courts have rightly exercised their inherent powers are galore. See e.g. Reichel V Magrath 14 App. Cas. 665; Metropolitan Bank V Pooley 10 App. Cas. 210; Electrical Development Co. V A-G. for Ontario (1919) A.C. 687; Foifie V Seifah (1958) A.C. 59, at p.67…. Section 6(6)(a) deals with inherent powers (often called inherent jurisdiction) of courts of record. As for their nature, it is helpful to refer to an article by I.H. Jacob of the University College, London, titled “The Inherent Jurisdiction of the Court” in Volume 23 of Current Legal Problems 1970″, which I believe throws some lucid light on the problem. He stated:
In many spheres of the administration of justice, the High Court of Justice in England exercises a jurisdiction which has the distinctive description of being called ‘inherent’. The inherent jurisdiction of the court may be invoked in an apparently inexhaustible variety of circumstances and may be exercised in different ways. This peculiar concept is indeed so amorphous and ubiquitous and so pervasive in its operation that it seems to defy the challenge to determine its quality and to establish its limits. …. To understand the nature of the inherent jurisdiction of the court, it is necessary to distinguish it first from the general jurisdiction of the court, and next from its statutory jurisdiction. The term ‘inherent jurisdiction of the Court’ does not mean the same thing as ‘the jurisdiction of the court’ used without qualification or description: the two terms are not interchangeable, for the ‘inherent’ jurisdiction of the court is only a part or an aspect of its general jurisdiction. The general jurisdiction of the High Court as a superior court of records is, broadly speaking unrestricted and unlimited in all matters of substantive law, both civil and criminal, except in so far as that has been taken away in unequivocal terms by statutory enactment. The High Court is not subject to supervisory control by any other court except by due process of appeal, and it exercises the full plenitude of judicial power in all matters concerning the general administration of justice within its area. Its general jurisdiction thus includes the exercise of an inherent jurisdiction. Moreover, the term ‘inherent jurisdiction of the court’ is not used in contra-distinction to the jurisdiction conferred on the court by statute. The contrast is not between the common law jurisdiction of the court on the one hand and its statutory jurisdiction on the other, for the court may exercise its inherent jurisdiction even in respect of matters which are regulated by statute or by rule of Court, so long as it can do so without contravening any statutory provision. There is, nevertheless an important difference between the nature of the inherent jurisdiction of the court and its statutory jurisdiction. The source of the statutory jurisdiction of the court is of course the statute itself which will define the limits within which such jurisdiction is to be exercised, whereas the source of the inherent jurisdiction of the court is derived from its nature as a court of law, so that the limits of such jurisdiction are not easy to define, and indeed appear to elude definition. (Italics mine).” (http://www.nigeria-law.org/Akilu%20V%20Fawehinmi%20No%202.htm)
Application of the Law to the Oji River Incident Involving Mr. Chuks Okonkwo.
- Based on the provisions of law discussed above, the actions of the Oji River High Court Registrar (as reported by MR. CHUKS OKONKWO himself) in having asked junior lawyers (including Mr. Okonwko) to vacate the front-row of the Bar section of the court, to allow an incoming Senior Advocate to sit, were, in my opinion, perfectly in order and did not amount to any injustice against the affected junior Lawyers. Established convention in the legal profession requires that the Inner Bar section of a courtroom must be reserved for the exclusive use of members of the inner bar, (which include Attorneys-General, Life Benchers, SAN’s, and other lawyers who are entitled to such privilege, as prescribed in section 2 (3) of the LPA). A Legal practitioner who is not a member of the inner bar is not permitted to sit on any seat located within the inner bar. However, in Nigeria, since our courts are not structured to provide for the inner bar section, the front row seats in the Bar section of the courtroom are by convention reserved for members of the inner bar. This means that NO member of the outer bar is permitted to sit on a front-row seat in court unless it is already certain that no member or the Inner Bar is appearing in the affected court on a particular day. One cannot be said to have satisfied oneself that an inner-bar member is not coming to court at a time when the court has not even started sitting. Therefore, to avoid the justified and justifiable “embarrassment” of having to be asked to vacate the front-row seat for a member of the inner bar, I think the wiser and safer thing for any member of the Outer Bar to do, on arrival in the courtroom, is to carefully and altogether avoid the front row seats. From the story of the Oji River, Enugu State incident, as told by MR OKONKWO, it is obvious that the court on that day, had not started sitting as at the time the registrar (apparently acting on the judge’s instructions) came to clear the FRONT ROW for the incoming Learned Silk. This means that the junior lawyers (including MR. OKONKWO) who were found to be comfortably seated/sitting on the front-row seats, had chosen DELIBERATELY to violate an established rule regarding respect for SENIORITY AT THE BAR. Respect seniority at the Bar is part of the Professional Ethics & Skills curriculum/syllabus as taught in the Nigerian Law School. So, there is no one that would deny knowledge of same. Besides, one of the duties a legal practitioner owes the court, the Legal Profession and his professional colleagues, as set out in the Professional Ethics & Skills syllabus, is the “KNOW WHERE TO SIT IN COURT” duty, which demands of the lawyer that he must “select a seat that reflects his standing at the Bar; give up seal for elders and seniors. Avoid front-row seats which are reserved for members of the inner Bar. Avoid pressed seats.”
- Okonkwo says the judge was unfair to him and his other junior colleagues. I beg to disagree. I think it is Mr. Okonkwo who was unfair, unjust and oppressive against the senior lawyer (Learned silk) when he, Mr. Okonkwo chose to breach an existing convention that required him to avoid front-row seats inside the courtroom until such a time it would have become crystal clear that no inner bar member was coming to court. I wonder what would become of existing rules regarding SENIORITY AT THE BAR, if such conduct as was exhibited by Mr. Okonkwo was condoned and ignored! By the way, exactly where (which part of the Courtroom) did Mr. Okonkwo expect the learned senior member of the inner bar to have sat when he (Mr Okonkwo) had gone to occupy the front-row seat, against tradition? How would Mr. Okonkwo himself have felt if he had been sitting on the front row while the learned Silk walked in and decided to sit right behind Mr. Okonkwo? Comfortable? Further, what would Mr. Okonkwo himself have done if a similar scenario had played out in a court presided over by Mr Okonkwo himself as the trial judge? Would he, Mr Okonwko (as Hon Justice Okonkwo) have kept quiet and done nothing other than to allow the Learned Silk to occupy the back seat, right behind junior counsel? How, would Mr. Okonkwo (as “Hon Justice Okonkwo”) have handled/resolved this very issue?
- I liken what the judge had done through the registrar to what is usually referred to elsewhere as ABATEMENT OF NUISANCE. A junior lawyer who gets into a courtroom and decides to violate existing court decorum is merely constituting himself/herself a nuisance in court. It was in a bid to abate the nuisance that the Hon judge in Enugu had gently directed the registrar to advise the lawyers to vacate the seats. The judge merely helped Mr. Okonkwo and his legal ethics violators to purge themselves of their iniquity. I think Mr. Okonkwo owes the judge a debt of gratitude for having helped to call him and his fellow defaulters to order. Therefore, instead of standing up in open court to interrupt, disrupt, and disturb court proceedings with his unreasonable complaints and groundless vituperative remarks (which was like adding salt to injury), Mr. Okonkwo ought to have stood up to apologize to both the presiding judge and the learned silk for his improper conduct, and to appreciate the judge for having helped to call him to order. Better still, Mr Okonkwo could have kept wisely mute about the whole thing and allowed it to go unnoticed, since the judge and the silk (both of whom were absent when the Registrar cleared the front-row seats) would never have known who among junior counsel in court on that day was among those who had gone to discourteously occupy the seat meant for members of the Inner bar. Had Mr. Okonkwo not stood up to start complaining (instead of apologizing, as he ought reasonably to have), and later to start writing his unnecessary treatise of self- adulation, the judge, the learned senior counsel and the world of Nigerian Legal community would never have known about this ugly incident; and, Mr Okonkwo would have been spared the opproporium that usually follows such act of disrespect and disruption of the concept of seniority at the bar.
- At this point, I recall a very recent, slightly similar, scenario, although not within the legal profession. It was a news report earlier in 2019: “Young man sends Prof Wole Soyinka away for occupying his allocated seat on a plane” (https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.legit.ng/amp/1244976-young-man-sends-prof-wole-soyinka-occupying-allocated-place-a-plane.html). It was reported of how Nobel laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, had gone into an airplane to (perhaps mistakenly) occupy another passenger’s seat, and how the passenger (true owner of the seat) had come on board and demanded that the Nobel laureate must stand up for him to sit on his seat. It was said that the Nobel laureate had quietly complied with the demands of the true owner of the seat. News report of the incident had expectedly elicited mixed reactions from Nigerians —- see “Outrage as aircraft passenger asks Wole Soyinka to vacate seat.”(https://lifestyle.thecable.ng/outrage-as-aircraft-passenger-ask-wole-soyinka-to-vacate-his-seat/). My own view was simple: respect begets respect. If you want to retain your respect and also to be respected, as you deserve, you must be ready to accord others the respect and privilege they deserve. This is a rule of life; be a reflection of what you’d like to see in others. If you want respect, give respect. You get in return what you give. Ralph Waldo Emerson summarizes it all: “men are [respected] and respectable only as they respect. Happily, Prof Soyinka had shortly thereafter issued a statement in which he, being a polished gentleman, had declared, “I Can’t Pick A Wrong Seat And Justify It” (https://thenigerialawyer.com/i-cant-pick-a-wrong-seat-and-justify-it-soyinka-speaks-on-aircraft-incident/). Now, one may want to compare the two incidents: Soyinka`s and Mr. Okonkwo`s scenarios:
- Prof Soyinka`s (picking a wrong seat) was a clear mistake, as he was later to explain. On the other hand, Mr. Okonkwo had deliberately picked the wrong seat inside the courtroom, as one could gather from his later outburst and treatise.
- Unlike Soyinka who made no attempts at justifying his wrong actions, Mr. Okonkwo has been working so hard to justify his deliberate breach of courtroom decorum.
- Unlike Soyinka who on being blamed/corrected, quickly took the correction by swiftly remedying his wrongs and going back to his own seat, and further by publicly admitting his errors, Mr. Okonkwo (although he complied with the registrar`s directive; had he any alternatives?) had viewed his being asked to go to the right seat as an act of injustice against him.
I think the best way to describe MR OKONKWO’s conduct on this particular occasion is that of an offender complaining against the offended.
- A brief highlight of some salient advantages inherent in the practice of calling cases out-of-turn is appropriate at this juncture. For this purpose, I reproduce a portion of my article titled, “Senior Advocate of Nigeria: To be or not to be,” and published on September 03, 2009:
“…. mentioning cases out-of-turn in court is not an exclusive preserve of SANs; it is open to all our senior legal colleagues. The issue of who is a senior, and therefore entitled to mention case out-of-turn on a particular day in court, generally depends on the circumstances; a lawyer who is only five years at the Bar could become a senior for this purpose if all the other lawyers in court at that moment are his juniors. Again, there are immense benefits derivable by junior lawyers from their seniors mentioning cases out-of-turn in court: there can be no better ways of acquiring the experience necessary to become a successful legal luminary than watching your senior colleagues present their cases in court and learning from their own dexterity and skills as well as flaws and pitfalls; this was even partly the theory behind the phenomenon of mentioning cases out-of turn in the first place. Further, the issue of who gets which legal briefs today in Nigeria does not depend solely on whether or not one is a senior advocate; after all, most of the richest lawyers in Nigeria are not SANs. The issue is clearly dependent on so many variables, including previous dealings, specialization, competence and exposure, retainership, social relationship, among others. By and large, clients prefer lawyers who have previously handled their briefs diligently and honestly to unfamiliar ones; in fact, some establishments insist on briefing only lawyers on their retainer irrespective of their status. Similarly, most individual clients would prefer their briefs to go to legal practitioners with whom they are accustomed or whom they consider proficient or competent, notwithstanding their status.”*SOURCE: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.vanguardngr.com/2009/09/senior-advocate-of-nigeria-to-be-or-not-to-be/amp/)
Finally, Mr. Okonkwo expresses fear about how his clients would perceive him (Mr. Okonkwo) following/after that incident. Mr. Okonkwo thinks that the actions of the judge and registrar had belittled him before his own clients who might, as a result of the incident, no longer attach any much importance to him as a lawyer, since he was not a SAN. Permit me to say at once, with due respect, that Mr. Okonkwo`s ordeals were self-imposed; if Mr. Okonkwo feels disparaged or belittled before his own clients, as a result of his having been asked to vacate the front-row seat for a Senior Advocate, I respectfully think that neither the Court Registrar nor the judge is to blame for this. Only Mr. Okonkwo is to blame, although I am unable to see how the actions of the judge could have been interpreted, by a reasonable bystander, as having adversely affected Mr. Okonkwo`s ranking or rating among his clients. In my view, Mr. Okonkwo is just trying unnecessarily to make a MOUNTAIN out of a molehill. The Oji river, Enugu incident was strictly a BAR ISSUE that had/has nothing to do with clients or non-lawyers. But I must repeat that Mr Okonkwo, alone, and no other, is to blame for feeling the way he feels. If Mr. Okonkwo had done the right thing, Mr. Okonkwo would never have felt “embarrassed,” belittled or unjustly treated. If Mr. Okonkwo`s clients would ever begin to see Mr. Okonkwo differently after the Enugu incident, although I doubt it, then it is because Mr. Okonkwo’s clients had watched with amazement how Mr. Okonkwo flouted a long-standing legal ethical rule; it is perhaps because Mr. Okonkwo’s clients now think that he has no respect for his seniors within the profession, and that he has the habit of flouting simple courtroom decorum. Either way, anyway, Okonkwo has only himself to blame. How I wish Mr. Okonkwo would or could for a minute put himself in the shoes of a disinterested bystander. How I wish he would. Unfortunately, as Alfred Richard Orage, the observation of others is coloured by our inability to observe ourselves impartially. We can never be impartial about anything until we can be impartial about our own organism.
- All in all, the Oji River incident was/is a hard lesson in humility for Mr. Okonkwo and his colleagues. Yes, I think from the above, each and all legal practitioners in Nigeria can easily draw the following lessons:
- The concept of SENIORITY AT THE NIGERIAN BAR is real. The table/order of precedence is based on seniority, and the Order of Precedence is binding on all legal practitioners;
- The demands of the concept of seniority and precedence at the bar come with certain legally-recognized privileges and rights which every member of the bar cannot flout with impunity;
- The concept or notion of Equality of all Legal practitioners is subject to the concept of Seniority & Order of Precedence at the Bar;
- The right of a senior counsel to mention a case out-of-turn is not limited to only cases that listed for mention; it extends to all cases, subject to the court`s discretion/leave. A court of law possesses the inherent powers/jurisdiction to permit any (senior) counsel in court to call his or her case out-of-turn, as the court may deem fit, in deserving circumstances, whether the case is originally listed for mention or for hearing; and
- Every lawyer in Nigeria has a perpetual duty to respect the demands of courtroom decorum, including knowing where to sit in court, and the duty to voluntarily vacate seats for elders and seniors.
Like every other profession, the legal profession has an ethical standard, otherwise known as legal ethics, established through customs, conventions and garnered from jurists and law books. The Black’s law Dictionary (8th edition (2004) by Bryan .A. Garner, page 913) defines legal ethics as “the minimum standards of appropriate conduct within the legal profession, involving the duties that its members owe one another, their clients and the courts….The written regulations governing those duties (e.g. Rules of Professional Conduct)…. Legal ethics cuts more deeply than legal regulation: it concerns the fundamentals of our moral lives as lawyers.” Legal ethics are meant to uphold the honour and nobility of the legal profession and to guard the integrity of law. As Lord Denning, MR, observed in the famous case of Rondel v. Worsley (1967) 1 Q B 441, legal ethics is a code of law, and a code of honour; if the barrister breaks the code, he is offending against the rules of the legal profession and is subject to its discipline. I again salute the Hon presiding Judge at the High Court of Enugu State, Oji River Division, for having taken the right steps towards preserving the honour and integrity of the legal profession in Nigeria. Experience is a hard teacher; she gives the test first, and the lesson afterwards. Mr. Okonkwo has learnt the hard way! I enjoin others to learn by observation, from Okonkwo’s experience. Best regards to my learned friend, Mr. Chuks Okonkwo. God bless the Nigerian Bar.
(29 October 2019)
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