Three legal practitioners, Dr. Chidi Odinkalu, Gloria Ballason and Abiodun Baiyewu have written to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho to stop judges from humiliating female lawyers when they appear before them.
In their letter, which they copied the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the lawyers said judges of the federal high courts often insist that a female legal practitioner indicate her gender after announcing their appearance in court.
They wrote: “It has come to our attention and we have independently verified that several judges of the federal high court in different places insist on asking female counsel appearing before them to indicate whether they are married or single.
“They require them to make a mandatory choice between the honorific titles ‘Mrs.’ or ‘Miss’ when they announce themselves in their courts.
“In some cases, female advocates, who balk at being treated in this way run into trouble with conducting their cases, suffer unacceptable bullying from the court or jeering and sniggering from the bar and the court gallery and generally get subjected to indignities entirely unrelated to their abilities or the merits of their advocacy and cases.
“We note that men, who appear in the court, are not at risk of suffering a similar fate,” the letter said.
The lawyers argued that this treatment had no basis in the rules or the laws applicable to proceedings before the federal high court.
According to the letter, treating female lawyers in this manner is inconsistent with the right to personal dignity guaranteed by section 34(1) of the 1999 constitution as amended.
They also cited section 42(1) of the constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. They consequently called on the CJ to put an end to this ugly practice of maltreating female lawyers.
The letter said: “Sadly, the treatment of female counsel by these judges of the federal high court violates high constitutional principles, in addition to basic courtesies.
“We are pained that this is coming from a superior court of record that should be at the forefront of the defence of these principles”, the letter said.