Speech Presented On Behalf Of The Body Of Senior Advocates Of Nigeria By Chief T. J. Onomigbo Okpoko, San, Oon At The Supreme Court Special Session Held At Abuja On The 24th Day Of Septemeber 2018 On The Occasion Of The Opening Of The 2018/2019 Legal Year Ceremonies And The Admission Of Outstanding Legal Practitioner To The Inner Bar.
- The Right Hon. The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Walter O. Onnoghen
- All other Protocols as duly established by the Hon. Chief Justice of Nigeria-observed.
This annual special session of the Supreme Court held to mark the official opening of the legal year of the Apex Court which bring together, all the critical stakeholders in the justice sector of our nation, is now not only well established but is accepted by Nigerians as a welcomed opportunity for citizens to hear directly, the Head of the Nigerian Judiciary, present a report card of the work of the Supreme Court, the state of affairs of the Nigerian Judiciary as a whole and admit to the inner Bar, lawyers who have attained distinction in the Legal profession as adjudged by the Legal Practitioner Privileges Committee.
This ceremony also provides an opportunity for the Body of Senior Advocates to make its comments and observations on the working of the Justice sector and to put forward suggestions designed to enhance the administration of justice and matters connected therewith and also to welcome to the Inner Bar the newly honoured colleagues.
This ceremony has come at a critical point in time in our nation. Contest for political offices is just a few months away and already political gladiators are at it again. Instead of considering and debating the real issues and challenges facing the Country, valuable time is being wasted on semantics and on accusation and counter accusations. In this way the real problems in our body politics are being sidelined.
Before, during and after the conduct of elections, unsuccessful parties will head for the Tribunals and the Courts of law for redress. Those of us at the Bar will be recruited quickly to fight the politicians’ wars for political offices even if the facts did not add up and did not justify such war.
Many colleagues will see nothing wrong with rendering advice or opinion on the case of their clients which they know the facts presented cannot support. In an effort to secure what is generally referred to as a “juicy brief”, some of us will resort to distortion of clear facts and labour to manufacture evidence or resort to “fake news or fake evidence”.
Some will boastfully assure their clients that all will be well with their client’s case even if such a case is patently groundless to their knowledge. Instead of telling their clients truthfully and honestly the legal effect of the known state of their client’s case, they proceed to fix ridiculous and outrageously high sums of money as their professional fees and sometimes do so on the basis of their assertion that there are special ways of winning a bad case otherwise than by advocacy as known to the profession. In the process a supposedly Honourable Gentleman of the Bar may be forced into resorting to the practice known to Roman Advocates- as suppressio veri suggestio falsie.
These are not actions or conduct expected of a member of the noble profession of law. Those of us who resort to such objectionable practices as a means of making it in the noble profession of law are harming not only the noble Judges of our court of justice and their colleagues, they are indeed hurting the Honourable Profession of law which they joined on their own volition because of the honour, dignity and reputation in society which our predecessors in the profession have built up for us in the practice of law.
Nigeria needs honest lawyers rendering honest legal advice or services. It is a disservice to the administration of justice and to society as a whole for any Gentleman at the Bar to knowingly render wrong or dishonest opinion on matter of law or address to the Court hearing a case, a point of law which Counsel knows to be wrong in law or unsustainable.
Adjudication is in itself a painful and a difficult task. We as lawyers must accept the duty not to add to the pains of our Judges or their task. In other common law jurisdiction such as in the USA or the UK, any calculated attempt by Counsel to mislead the Judge either on the facts or on the law is summarily dealt with and the Counsel bears the consequences of his misdeeds. A Counsel’s deliberate ploy to delay or frustrate the hearing of a case is regarded as sufficiently serious to earn an erring Counsel the necessary sanction
Lawyers must appreciate that the services provided by the judiciary in our nation, is not just for the benefit of litigants or lawyers. Those fortunate enough to know what it takes to attract investments into the country, will readily acknowledge the fact that investors, especially foreign investors’ first consideration for deciding whether to invest in any country is the reliability and efficiency of its judicial system. This is because the investor wants to be assured that in case of commercial disputes, there is in existence, a reliable and efficient court system manned by Judges of undoubted integrity to resolve the dispute. Whatever happens on the Bench and/or at the Bar cannot remain a secret any more. The world is now a global village and all our activities in private are being watched all over the world
Fake news now exist in reality. In the Vanguard newspaper of Wednesday, the 19th of September, 2018, there appeared at page 9, a bold but misdirecting headline- “Ensure political cases are determined on merit” purporting to be a quote from the address delivered by the Chief Justice of Nigeria at the 34th Annual Conference of the Judges of the Federal High Court in Abuja. Let me hasten to add that the Learned CJN did not limit what the paper ascribed to his Lordship to political cause alone. This is manifest from the other parts of the publication where the Honourable Chief Judge of Nigeria was correctly quoted to have said:
“while INEC has the responsibility to conduct and manage elections, the judiciary on its part is charged with the responsibility of resolving disputes arising from the process. We must therefore ensure that matters brought before our courts are determined on their merit, devoid of any external interference to ensure the sustenance of the independence of the judiciary”
It is therefore misleading for anyone to assert or suggest that only political cases are to be determined on the merit by the Court.
To our new colleagues of the Inner Bar, I congratulate you for your well deserved honour of being elevated to the Inner Bar. As I said in my 2015 speech in this Court, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria is an aristocrat and a Legal Practitioner of high ranking. Your recognition as a member of this elite group, imposes on you, the status of a leader at the Bar. People will look on you from today henceforth as a special lawyer and because of your new status, expectation of good conduct expected of a Gentleman at the Bar will be very highly demanded of you. The slightest perception of any conduct unbecoming of a Gentleman at the Bar on your part will raise great alarm in the minds of reasonable members of the Nigeria Society who will see you as a bad example to young lawyers and a bad role model in Society. You must therefore take to heart that your new status impose on you the duty to be honest truthful and just in your practice of law and in your everyday life.
Your new status as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria is not a licence for you to corrupt or encourage the corruption of Judges in any matter whatsoever. You must know that it is not only the giving or taking of bribe that constitute corruption. Influence peddling is as much an act of corruption as the giving of bribe. Peer influence is another example if used as a means of securing an undeserved advantage or promoting or aiding injustice in our Courts of law.
Telling clients that you are in a special relationship of sort with a Judge or the friend or relation of a Judge as a means of securing brief is a corrupt practice or telling a client that you can pass money from a third party to a Judge or that you know a person through whom a Judge can be reached are all grave acts of misconduct which unnecessarily cast a shadow of corruption not only on a particular Judge but on the Judiciary as a whole. Do not give our Judges the name they do not deserve. Do not feed your clients with falsehood. Do not invite or advise your client to reach out to any Judge. That is not the way of the legal profession.
You are all Lawyers of standing and you understand all these things. Senior Advocates in particular, must not by their acts and style of practice be seen to aid or encourage corruption at the Bar or on the Bench. We must join hand with our Justices and Judges as they strive to build up a judiciary that is efficient, corruption free, transparent and of which our nation can be justifiably proud. Once more, I congratulate you for earning your new rank.
His Lordship, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, has alerted judges that their courts are likely to be flooded with litigations bothering on pre-election and post-election matters. Flowing from what I have already said in this address, many SANs will certainly participate in this matters. I do not intend to discourage any one in taking up these matters. Infact, I encourage lawyers to take up these matters. All that need to be said is that in the discharge of your duties in these matter, you should not be swayed by politicians to say that “white is black” and that “black is white”. When lawyers stand firm on due process and the rule of law, our judges achieve the just determination of the case before them.
In election petition cases, politicians who prosecute and defend these cases easily point to corruption as a reason for any adverse Ruling against them whatever the merit of their case. It is therefore necessary to remind our colleagues and their lordships who conduct and hear these cases of the need to be consistent in the law they administer and not to allow any politician/litigant obstruct their view of justice. Nigeria needs our Judges now more than ever. The ability of the nation to survive the election year and still remain as one nation is in the hands of our Judges. May the Good Lord who placed us together where we are now and made us neighbours release to our Judges at all level, wisdom, courage and justice to save Nigeria for us all.
Finally my Lord, let me refer to three matters very briefly.
- The practice I met at the Bar in 1971 is that whenever an Appellate Court decides a case, a copy of their judgment is served on the judge, whose judgment gave rise to the appeal. I consider this practice very beneficial. A trial judge who reads, will appreciate why the judgment was overturned or was supported. Thus he learns from the judgment. If that practice is no longer there, I appeal to the Chief Justice of Nigeria to reinstate the practice for the benefit of the profession. A trial Judge should not wait for a law report before reading the Appellate court’s views of his Judgement.
- There was a time when supporting judgment and/or dissenting judgments in appellate matters was a matter of common experience in the appellate court. Over time, this practice seems to have virtually died out. A reasoned supporting judgment and/or a reasoned dissenting judgment both throw light on the main judgment of Court. In this way, the supporting judgment and/or dissenting judgment helps to deepen our knowledge of the law and the basis of the Court decision. We appeal to your lordship that this practice should not be allowed to die but should be encourage as a welcome development in our practice of law.
- Your lordship have said time without number that the Supreme Court is supreme not because it is infallible but because it is the final appellate court. This position of the Supreme Court has not changed. The challenge of the Nigerian Legal Community is that there is no Bar Journal of standing to publish reviewed judgments of any of our Courts. A properly organized publication of a Bar Journal is a vital material that can deepen the knowledge of law and its practice in our country. It is on this basis that I call on the Nigerian Bar Association to rise to the occasion and have a publishing outfit of a standard high enough to be called the Nigerian Law Journal where intellectual articles and reviews, not only of judgments of Courts but also pending bills and enacted statutes can be articulated for a better knowledge of the law of our land. Both judges and lawyers will benefit from such a project and I humbly urge your lordship to give the necessary support to such a project when the NBA and or its members rise to such occasion.
I thank you for listening.
Chief T.J.Onomigbo Okpoko OON SAN