Duties and responsibilities of a lawyer

Is every Nigerian entitled to be represented in court by a lawyer of his choice? Does a lawyer commit any infraction by representing a politician simply because the government of the day has named and dubbed him corrupt (“Name-and-shame-policy)? Is a lawyer entitled to defend accused coup-plotters, arsonists, murderers, miscreants and tormentors? We shall explore this today.

Importance of professional ethics in the legal profession (Continues)

For the sake of comparison, let us quickly take a look at The Indian Practise Rule for the Legal Profession provided in Preamble of Part IV, Chapter II as it states thus:

1. “An advocate shall, at all times, comport himself in a manner befitting his status as an officer of the court, a privileged member of the community and a gentleman”;

2. “He should bear in mind that what may be lawful and moral for a person who is not a member of Bar, or for a member of the Bar in his non- professional capacity may still be improper for an Advocate”;

3. “Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing obligation, an Advocate shall fearlessly uphold the interests of his client, and in his conduct conform to the rules hereinafter mentioned both in letter and in spirit”.

4. “The rules hereinafter mentioned contain canons of conduct and etiquette adopted as general guides; yet the specific mention there of shall not be construed as a denial of existence of other equally imperative though not specifically mentioned”.

Section 1 (of chapter II of Part IV of the Bar Council of India Rules) frames code of conduct and etiquette of Advocates and prescribes certain duties of an Advocate of the Court.

Worthy to note is that the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners in Nigeria (RPC) has Fifty- two (52) Sections specifying the duties and responsibilities of lawyers to the Court, clients and the Legal Profession in general while Legal Practitioners Act Provides for the qualification, entitlements and discipline of Lawyers in Nigeria. Some of professional misconducts provided for by the RPC include;

(a) Knowingly doing an act or omission that may lead to the admission into the legal profession of a person who is unsuited for admission by reasons of his immoral character or insufficient qualifications.

(b) Calling at a client’s house or place of business for the purpose of giving advice to or taking instruction from client except in special circumstances.

(c) Aiding a non-lawyer in the unauthorized practice of law

(d) Accepting an employment as an advocate in any matter upon the merits of which he had previous acted in a judicial capacity

(e) Practicing as a legal practitioner while engaged in the business of buying and selling commodities, the business of commission agent and other business that tends to undermine the high standing of the profession.

(f) Putting personal benefit or gain or taking advantage of the confidence reposed on him by his client.

(g) Mixing of client money with a legal practitioner’s money or making use of same as his own.

(h) Bargaining with a witness either by contingent fee or otherwise as a condition for giving evidence.

In view of the above, and similar rules appearing in the IRAC and RPC, it is interesting to deduce the following similar duties:

A lawyer is an officer of the court and accordingly, he shall not

do any act or conduct himself in any manner that may obstruct,

delay or adversely affect the administration of justice.

A lawyer shall always treat the court with respect, dignity and honour.

• Respecting the court

• Follow appropriate dress code

• A lawyer shall not give evidence he knows the court will reject

• A lawyer shall not mislead the court

• Shall not appear before the court unprepared

• Don’t take up cases of clients who insist on use of unfair means

• Have a dignified behaviour.

Duties of lawyers to lawyers

• Shall respect other lawyers, treating with good faith

• Observe the rules of precedence

• Do not promote unauthorized practice

• Avoid advertisement and solicitation of work

• Appear after consent of fellow advocate and ensure their fees were paid

Duties of lawyers to a client

Although an advocate is bound by obligations of honour and probity not to overstate the truth of his client’s case, and is forbidden to have recourse to any artifice or subterfuge which may beguile the judge, he is not the judge of the case, and within these limits must use all the knowledge and gifts he possesses to advance his client’s claims to justice.

  Don’t take cases where the lawyer has to be a witness

  Never withdraw service halfway

  Give client top priority

  Don’t try to tamper with the evidence or suppress it

  Act according to the client’s instructions

  Fees adjustment as per liability is a strict no

  Bidding for purchasing property arising of legal proceeding is a strict no

  Don’t take undue advantage of the client’s trust

  Variation in charges depending upon the success of the case is a strict no

  Proper accounting of everything is important

  Absolute clarity about things with the client is necessary.

Interestingly, it is important to state here that, the General Council of the Bar in Nigeria is one of the controlling bodies in the legal profession. Part of the functions of the General Council of the Bar includes amongst others; the making and revising of rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners in accordance with the legal practitioners Act. The body responsible for the discipline of lawyers in Nigeria is the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC).  However, In the Medical field, ethics refers to the medical oaths and codes that prescribe a physician’s character, motives and duties which are expected to produce a right conduct and this should guide the members of the medical profession in their dealings with one another, their patients and with their states. In maintaining the ethics of the Legal Profession for instance. Lord Denning, the Master of the Rolls in commenting on the ethics of the Legal Profession in the case of RONDEL V. WORSLEY opined thus: “As an advocate, he is a Minister of Justice equally with the Judge. He has a monopoly of audience in the higher courts. No one save he can address the JUDGE, unless it be a litigant in person. This carries with it a corresponding responsibility. He must accept that brief and do all he honourably can on behalf of his client I say “all he honourably can” because his duty is not only to his client. He has a duty to the court which is paramount………. The code which requires a barrister to do all this is not a code of law. It is a code of honour. If he breaks it, he is offending against the rules of profession and is subject to its discipline. But he cannot be sued in a court of law…..”.

Nigeria Medical Council rules

As referred to earlier, the Nigeria Medical Council for instance, has laid down rules and regulations for medical practitioners towards a patient and where a medical practitioner goes contrary to the rules and regulations, a medical tribunal is set up to try him for malpractices. The disciplinary committee for Medical Practitioners in Nigeria is known as the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria. These Boards, Committees or tribunal depending on the preference of each profession has exclusive powers to sanctions members who breach the code of ethics guiding the profession.

Natural justice allows an accused to be defended

Now, the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) has incorporated the Rule of Natural Justice by the enactment of the provisions of Section 36 thereof. The principle is based on the twin pillar of hear the other side before you judge and do not be a judge in your own case. These rules must be applied by any and or all adjudicatory bodies in Nigeria, failing which the decision of such disciplinary body would be rendered null, void and of no legal effect because such a decision would have breached the constitutional right of the accused professional to fair hearing. The courts therefore will not interfere with the decision of an administrative disciplinary body if the rules of fair hearing had been complied with.

When there is a breach of any of the rules of professional conduct, the appropriate remedy is to report the breach to the relevant body for investigation. Then, a report of the investigation is made to the appropriate body and thereafter, if necessary, the member is tried by the tribunal or panel established for that purpose. In the investigation and or trial of ‘offenders’ the most important consideration must be given to compliance with the provisions of Section 36(1) of the 1999 Constitution, which provides –

“‘In the determination of his civil rights and obligations, including the question or determination by or against any government or authority, a person shall be entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court or other tribunal established by law and constituted in such manner as to secure its independence and impartiality.”

In the same vein, the Supreme Court Per Ogbuagu J.S.C in MAGIT V. UNIVERSITY OF AGRICULTURE, MAKURDI & ORS

‘’I will also, respectfully, share the views of Tobi, JCA, (as he then was) in his lead judgment in the case of University of Calabar & 2 ors. v. Esiaga (1997) 4 NWLR, (Pt. 502) 719 at 742 C.A. (cited and relied on by the learned counsel for the respondents also in their Additional Case Law and which came on appeal to this court and was also reproduced at page 10 of the S.C. report), where his Lordship, stated inter alia, as follows: “In so far as the examinations are conducted according to the University rules and regulations and duly approved and ratified by the University Senate, the courts have no jurisdiction in the matter. A court of law which dabbles or flirts into the arena of university examinations, a most important and sensitive aspect of university function should remind itself that it has encroached into the bowels of university autonomy. Such a court should congratulate itself of being a party to the destruction of the University and that will be bad not only for the University but also for the entire nation. Let that day not come.’’

Truth is that, the importance of the principle of fair hearing in the trial of ‘offenders’ cannot be overemphasized; it is universal and absolute; it does not permit of any exception. Fair hearing is so important that it is often said that in the Garden of Eden, God gave Adam fair hearing before He pronounced His judgment against Adam. Also, it is said that you cannot shave a man’s head in his absence. This principle does manifest itself in different ways during investigations and or trials at the tribunals.

Code of rules enjoins integrity

Compliance with the code or rules of professional conduct is very important in maintaining integrity and professionalism; it would serve no purpose to have rules of professional conduct that are honoured more in breach than in compliance. Furthermore, it will also be counterproductive if the decisions of the disciplinary tribunal or panel cannot be sustained because of non-compliance with simple rules of administrative law and procedure.

(To be continued)

Sounds and bites

“Our geography teacher lied to us!! If the earth rotates, why am I still in Nigeria?

– Mwalonga


Thought for the week

“Once you realise that you’re in something that you’ve always wanted and you don’t want to lose it, you behave differently. And that means the integrity, the professionalism, and knowing what’s right from wrong and still making choices that you probably wouldn’t have made”. (Paul Anka)

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