Protecting Legal Profession from Extinction, Adulteration, Infiltration (3) – Mike Ozekhome SAN

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INTRODUCTION
Jiddu Krishnamurti once opined that there is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning. On this note, we shall continue our expository discourse into this issue, having started last week with the challenges confronting the legal profession in Nigeria today.

WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES FACED BY THE LEGAL PROFESSION IN NIGERIA TODAY?

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INADEQUATE COURT BUILDINGS

Some of our decrepit and rickety court rooms can be liked village primary school halls. They make litigants act like children in such class rooms, such as scampering for seats and making noise while inside the court rooms. Some court rooms are so congested that litigants sometimes miss their cases because they were standing outside the court room when their cases were called up for hearing. Poor building imfracture extinguishes the nobility of the legal profession. Lawyers are kept standing in courts for lack of sitting spaces. The perspiration that bedevils all in the court is better imagined.

DISOBEDIENCE TO COURT ORDERS

Disobedience to Court Orders is commonplace, especially under the present President Muhammadu Buhari regime. This breeds contempt of courts. In Doma v Ogiri (1997) 1 NWLR (pt. 481) 322 p. @ 340 paras. G – H, the court defined contempt of court as:
“Contempt of Court is defined and classified in Ezekiel-Hart v Ezekiel-Hart (1990) 1 NWLR (Pt.l26) 276; (1990) 2 SCNJ 1 at P2.”Contempt of court is either criminal or civil. It is criminal, when it consists of interference with administration of law, thus impeding and perverting the course of justice. It is civil, when it consists of disobedience to the judgments, orders, or other process of the court resulting or involving private injury.” Per Orah, JCA.

Contempt of court occurs when a person to whom an order of the court of competent jurisdiction is directed to do or to refrain from doing an act defies the order or seeks one subterfuge or the other to refuse to comply with the order. The term also embraces such invidious acts as insults or unsavoury comments with very sinister motives against a court with a view to denigrating the court and swear besmirch its nobility, its majesty, its aura, its responsibility or indulging in expressive sinister and offensive acts or words that would lower the esteem of the court in the eyes of the public.

In recent times, we have seen several instances where the Executive blatantly disobeys court orders. The cases Ibrahim of Elzakzaky and his wife, Zeenat, Col. Sabo Dasuki, Omoyele Sowole, etc, are archety-pal of this despotic government. All these happen because judicial appointments come from the Executive and must be sanctioned by the Legislature. Of course, this negative impacts, one way or the other, on the Judiciary in giving sentimental judgments as well as emboldening public office holders to flout court orders.

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LOW INPUT OF COMPUTER TECHNOLOGY

The world has gone digital. And failure to follow the trend of digital technology has led to so many challenges in the noble profession in Nigeria today. Not many legal practitioners and judicial officers are technologically savvy. Research is still being done in analogue format with analogue mentality. This slows down the legal process, amplifies human errors, while making the legal professionals, fallible; thereby rendering the profession unattractive. Although the Supreme Court has been moving towards complete utilization of information technology, there is need for all law courts in Nigeria to be ICT – compliant.

THE BELLIGERENCE OF LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS

The relationship between the legal profession and law enforcement agents has been nothing but belligerent. Law enforcement agents see legal practitioners and members of the Judiciary as enemies rather than as co-pilots on the flight of justice.
Execution of court judgments using Police officers and a visit to Police stations on behalf of a client in the custody of law enforcement agents can be dishonourable if not ignoble to the legal profession.

This is a pointer to the fact that after the rigors of going through court sittings and finally obtaining judgment, ordinary people still find it difficult to obtain justice because they cannot “speak the same language” with the Police.

PUBLIC DISTRUST OF THE JUDICIARY

Many ordinary citizens and even elites do not trust the Judiciary and only appear in court after all other means such as taking laws into their hands have failed, or when forced by court summons to do so.
This is due to the myriads of problems embattling the Judiciary.
I believe that by applying solutions to the challenges outlined above, public confidence in the Nigerian judiciary will be restored and more citizens will promptly seek redress in the temple of justice.
In conclusion, the Judiciary arm of government is responsible for interpreting the laws of the land. This makes the job of the Judiciary a very critical one.
The laws of the land constitutes, the basis upon which judgments are delivered. It is therefore fundamental that their interpretation and application should be performed with absolute alacrity and meticulousness.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE SOLUTIONS?

SOFT SKILLS

There is a lacuna in the legal profession that has either gone unnoticed, or the Council of Legal Education has not taken keen interest in filling: Soft Skills.
At the Law School, they teach students all the laws and principles required to succeed as a lawyer, but they forget to teach students that they are also humans. They rarely allow room for students to develop intra- Personal, Inter-Personal and extra-Personal skills. Given the strategic nature of the legal profession in our society, this oversight has come at a huge cost to our noble profession, with the quality of legal practice plummeting on a daily basis.
These soft skills are crucial to the survival of the noble profession. Not only because today’s lawyers are standing on the shores looking out at a foggy horizon, facing a time completely unprecedented, with their future uncertain and ambiguous, their environment volatile and complex, their world moving rapidly and technology advancing at an alarming rate, but also because the legal profession has its origin from nobility and nobility is rooted in propriety.
More poignantly, is that the present crop of lawyers being churned out from our various Law Schools have demonstrated a want of these Competences and as Lord Dening, The Master Of The Rolls, puts it, “…the link between success and merit… is forged through soft skills.”
Soft Skills such as Empathy, Initiative/Creativity, Building Bonds, Self-Awareness and Self-Assessment, Communication Skills, Collaboration and Corporation, Change Catalyst, Leveraging Diversity and Social, Business and Court Room Etiquettes, to mention but a few, must be introduced if we are to protect the legal profession from extinction, adulteration and infiltration.
Most lawyers cannot stand for long hours during cross examination exercises. Some hardly show ingenuity during litigation. Many sleep in court in the course of proceedings, and generally reveal a want of emotional strength. How many lawyers have missed their matters in court due to poor health? These weaknesses have had a huge impact on the competence and advocacy/litigation of the Bar. Even some of the most brilliant and Senior lawyers are equally culpable.
As often said, “necessity is the mother of invention.”
There is a secret to everything in life; including the survival of the legal profession in trying times such as we are. Continuing legal training is the osmosis of the legal profession and most intelligent lawyers would stop at nothing to gain information that would impact on their legal practice for the better.
There is need for the Nigerian Bar Association to introduce programs targeted to help the legal profession protect itself from extinction, adulteration and infiltration.

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SAVING THE LEGAL PROFESSION FROM ADULTRATION AND INFILTRATION
POSITIVE ROLE OF THE NBA

Over the years, perennial problems arising out of the imperfections in the Roll of Legal Practitioners have continued to limit the ability of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA and indeed the Supreme Court of Nigeria, to regulate the practice of the profession with a reliable database of members. Some of the problems include wrong spelling of names, non-existent enrolment numbers, change of names through marriage effected by Deed Poll not being reflected in the Roll and some other noticeable defects.

LAWYERS DATABASE

The Lawyers Database Committee and the Supreme Court of Nigeria have compiled the names and enrollment numbers of all lawyers called to Bar in Nigeria. In view of the above, the data compiled is now available for verification and updating of information contained therein, in order to ensure that no lawyer enrolled in Nigeria is left out of the database which serves as a reference database of lawyers duly called to the Nigerian Bar.
To qualify for verification and avoid infiltration of the process by fake lawyers, its mandatory for all legal practitioners to provide the following requirements:
Call to Bar certificate (Original or Photocopy).
Means of Identification (i.e International Passport, Drivers’ Licence or National Identity card).
Proof of payment of Bar Practice fees (if paid offline).
Proof of payment of Branch Dues (if paid offline).
Evidence of Change of Name (if any).

NBA’S STAMP AND SEAL POLICY

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) also determined that with effect from 1st April, 2015, lawyers are required to affix their stamps on legal documents they prepare or endorse, in accordance with Rule 10 of the Nigerian Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007 (NBA n.d.).

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The Chief Justice of Nigeria also issued a circular on 12th May, 2015, giving directives for the implementation of the NBA stamps and seals policy. The circular states that “all Heads of Federal and State Courts shall establish procedures for the implementation of the stamp policy and its full utilization within all jurisdiction[s]”.

Similarly, by Rule 10 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, a lawyer acting in his capacity as a legal practitioner, legal office or adviser of any Governmental department or Ministry of any corporation, shall not sign or file a legal document unless there is affixed on any such document a seal and stamp approved by the Nigerian Bar Association.

For the purpose of this rule, “Legal documents” shall include pleadings, affidavits, depositions, applications, instruments, agreements, deed letters, memoranda, reports, legal opinions and such similar documents.

If without complying with the requirements of this rule, a lawyer signs or files any legal documents as defined in sub-rule (2) of this rule, and in any of the capacities mentioned in sub-rule (1), the document so signed or filed shall be deemed not to have been properly signed or filed.

By this, every lawyer is competent to affix the stamp/seal. Lawyers, in salaried employment other than lawyers employed as legal officers in a government department, as well as lawyers in default of payment of annual practising fees who are not entitled to act in the capacity of legal practitioners, legal officers or advisers cannot affix the stamp/seal on legal documents. (To be concluded next week).

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