Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN)
The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN), Wednesday decried the decline in the ethical standards of the legal profession.
Speaking at a special session to mark the beginning of a new legal year in Abuja, during which 25 lawyers who were recently conferred with the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) were also inaugurated, Adoke said lawyers were beginning to see the elevation to SAN as a licence to command fat fees.
He reiterated his previous call on the need to reclaim the judicial practice in Nigeria by showing the “bad eggs” among them the way out of the profession.
He said: “Today’s ceremony affords us yet another opportunity to reflect in the true significance of the rank of Senior Advocates of Nigeria. In popular discourse, within and outside the profession, there is a palpable feeling and perception that the rank is a passport to fame, personal riches and comfort.
“To others, the rank is a licence to command fat fees, open doors and prominence, bordering sometimes on arrogance. It is a matter of regret that these negative perceptions of the rank have engendered resentment from our colleagues who are yet to be similarly recoganised and honored.”
Addressing the new SANs and leadership of the bar, Adoke added: “As Senior Advocates of Nigeria, you owe a duty and responsibility to the profession and the country. As leaders of the bar, you must conduct yourselves in a manner befitting of the rank.
“You are expected to demonstrate high ethical standards, integrity and professionalism in all your dealings. Anything short of this high expectation will be a disservice to your status and a betrayal of the trust and responsibility reposed in you.”
Elaborating on the unethical practices among lawyers, Adoke said, “Permit me to use this auspicious occasion to draw attention to some of the challenges facing our profession, chief amongst which is the declining ethical standards and discipline at the bar.
“It is a matter of deep regret that lawyers including some Senior Advocates routinely engage in unwholesome practice unbecoming of members of this noble profession.
“Today lawyers are accused of deliberately misleading clients on the strength of their cases, with a view to appropriating unearned professional fees; tampering with client’s money; criticising judges in the media even where it is clear that they have not read their judgments, in order to determine the reasoning of the court and commenting on matters that are sub-juice.
“These are matters that were completely unheard of in the profession some few years back and where such misconduct was reported, it drew condemnation and appropriate sanctions.
“You will recall that at our recently concluded bar conference, I stressed the need for us to reclaim our profession and to show the bad eggs amongst us the way out of the profession.
“I wish to reiterate that call again and to urge the leadership of the bar to put the issue of professional ethics and discipline on the front banner.”
He also called on lawyers and judicial workers to encourage dialogue and peaceful resolution of disputes in their various communities as opinion leaders in the current face of insecurity in the country.
Also speaking at the event, Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloma Mukhtar, yesterday assured Nigerians that the judiciary under her administration would not let them down.
Mukhtar said she and her colleagues in the judiciary understood the enormity of the challenges before them.
According to her, “You will agree with me that the stakes are indeed high and the challenges very enormous, but our resolve remains absolute.
“In the new legal year, our efforts will be redoubled to ensure that the confidence bestowed on us by the people and by God will not be thrown into the abyss.
“The ultimate goal is where the hope of the public lies and we will, on our own part, do everything necessary to keep that hope alive, knowing that the judiciary is the only catalyst for societal cohesion.”
She noted that a society could operate under the rule of law only if laws are administered fairly, rationally, consistently, impartially and devoid of any improper influences.
She promised that cases would be determined speedily at all levels of the bench. In order to reduce the length of time it takes to determine cases, Mukhtar said the judiciary would embrace computerisation.
To this end, she said that the National Judicial Council (NJC) would issue a policy guideline whereby all serving judicial officers and support staff of the judiciary would be computer literate.
She also expressed concern at the refusal by some states to fund their judiciary adequately.
Also, Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Wednesday in Abuja, presented the first edition of the Laws of Ekiti State to the CJN.
During the presentation, in her office at the Supreme Court Complex, Fayemi said the objective was to keep the Supreme Court abreast of the new laws, a gesture that has finally freed the state from its 15-year long appendage to her sister state, Ondo.
Fayemi said the publication of the laws of the state was an important milestone in achieving certainty and predictability in the administration of justice in the state, as it would ease the stress of legal practitioners, students of law, academia and stakeholders in the justice sector, who have had to “sieve through the laws of the old Ondo State to find the true position of Ekiti laws.”
While presenting Mr. Femi Falana and Dayo Akinlaja, who were inaugurated as SANs with the laws also, Fayemi informed the CJN of the on-going efforts of his administration to reform the judicial sector in the state.
Justice Mukhtar commended the effort of the state government under Fayemi for drafting the new laws, saying it would make the dispensation of justice easier, especially in quoting from the laws.
Fayemi had appended his assent to a bill on the first edition of the laws of the state on March 9, this year.