Caution against disparaging judges
Davidson Iriekpen
The Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN) has warned the federal government and its agencies to ensure that its anti-corruption battle is fought within the ambit of the rule of law devoid of abuses of the fundamental rights of Nigerians.

Rising from its meeting at the Nigerian Law School in Lagos, the body, which is the umbrella organisation for all lawyers admitted to the Inner Bar, emphasised its abhorrence to corruption but cautioned that efforts to combat the malaise must not be corrupted by violation of human rights.

The anti-corruption agencies – especially the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) – have engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with lawyers and their umbrella body, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) over concerns that the anti-corruption battle is being derailed through abuse of human rights and lack of due process.

In a communiqué jointly signed by Mr. Ebun Sofunde (SAN) and Mr. Seyi Sowemimo (SAN), BOSAN said: “The Body condemns all forms of corruption and money laundering by anyone, lawyers inclusive, and wholeheartedly supports appropriate efforts of the Government aimed at curbing the menace of corruption through thorough investigation and prosecution of offenders in a fair trial that complies with due process of the law and ensures equal access to justice by the prosecutor and the accused, while guaranteeing the fundamental rights of all persons as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution (as amended).”
It stated that while it “welcomes the investigation of any lawyer, no matter how highly placed,” due process must be followed to ensure that rights of suspects are guaranteed, even as the body stated that its members have “a duty and a responsibility to hold ourselves to the highest professional and moral standards and are determined to continue to ensure that those standards are maintained.”

The elite group of lawyers condemned “all acts of disrespect by any person or agency of government, of valid orders of courts of competent jurisdiction,” warning that disrespect or disregard of court orders “is a step towards anarchy, which does not and cannot augur well for a democratic society such as Nigeria.”

Turning to the assault on the judiciary and the integrity of judges, BOSAN expressed concern on the “spate of disparaging remarks and attacks on the Judiciary and judicial officers, often made in a generalized manner and perhaps calculated to intimidate and infuse fear in Judges, who are sworn to dispense justice without fear or favour,” adding: “It is the Body’s view that it is unfair to the many honest and hard-working judges in our country to be painted with the same brush as the few who have been found wanting for misconduct or those who bring the office into disrepute and violate their sacred oaths of office.” It also warned lawyers to desist from joining the bandwagon of issuing “generalised statements of a disparaging nature” against judges, describing such conduct as “unprofessional.”

BOSAN also condemned what it called the “evolving practice of delays and non-payment of judges and judicial workers their salaries and allowances,” stating that this practice “severely undermines” the much cherished independence of the judiciary.

Dwelling on the right of accused persons to counsel of their choice and the duty of lawyers to defend their clients without fear or discrimination, the senior advocates reiterated their “belief that the harassment and intimidation of lawyers in any form in the course of their legitimate work is unlawful and counter-productive in a democratic society. Such actions are not only unlawful but antithetical to the rule of law.

“Nothing is further from the truth that once a lawyer undertakes the defence of an accused person, particularly a professional colleague, then he must be in active support of the alleged crime or be working against the anti-corruption crusade. The Nigerian Constitution, for good reason, presumes a person innocent until proven guilty before a court of competent jurisdiction following a fair hearing, with an opportunity to conduct his defence by a counsel of his choice.”

BOSAN enjoined lawyers to continue to represent their clients “to the best of their abilities, within the ambit of the law, and in compliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007.”

It noted that the body “continues to endorse” the core values of professional excellence, integrity, industry, professional ethics, and leadership by example as its overarching principles, adding that it “has taken appropriate measures to ensure that the rank is not brought to disrepute as a whole by the actions of those adjudged of wrong-doing.”
The body also reiterated the position of the NBA’s National Executive Committee (NEC) on NBA’s anti-corruption and anti-money laundering stance as well as its stand on the rule of law as contained in the NBA communiqué issued at the end of its recent NEC meeting at Jos, Plateau State.