Justice Walter Onnoghen

* Counsels SANs to discipline themselves, avoid filthy lucre

Amid growing criticism of the attitudes of some lawyers and judicial officers to the attempts to give Nigeria a socio-economic and political revamp, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, saturday accused members of the legal profession of being major contributors to a rising culture of impunity in the country. Onnoghen made the assertion at the 2017 Annual Dinner and Honours Night of the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Abuja chapter, held in the Federal Capital Territory.

The CJN advised the senior lawyers to guard against controversial briefs and filthy pecuniary pursuits that bring indignity to the profession.

Onnoghen stated, “We should try our very best to leave the trouble waters of impunity because if you look inward, you will know that we are part and parcel if it. The legal profession is part of the culture of impunity.

“We represent politicians who come in with all sorts of jokers in the name of brief and we help them heat up the polity, heat up the judiciary and cast aspersions on judicial officers. We say all sorts of things on the pages of newspapers and television.”

The federal government has received a lot of criticism in recent times for allegedly ignoring court orders to release certain persons being detained, especially with regard to corruption and security related trials. Some lawyers and judges have also been arrested of late on allegations of corruption and aiding corrupt practices.

But the CJN cautioned the Senior Advocates to always put the interest of the legal profession above parochial and personal interests, stressing that no amount of money from a client is worth bringing disrepute to the practitioners and the profession.

“We must discipline ourselves and discipline our stomachs,” he told the SANs. He urged them to reciprocate the respect accorded them by the judiciary by helping to make the work of the courts easy.

Onnoghen berated lawyers who complicated the job of the courts by filing frivolous suits and motions.

“How much do you think a client will pay you that will worth you lowering your standard to the extent that you are not an appellant but you are prevailed upon to file a motion or file a notice of withdrawal of a case you never filed,” he asked. “You didn’t file yet you are briefed to file a motion to withdraw that appeal; a respondent withdrawing appeal filed by an appellant. And you are a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.”

In a similar vein, the BoSAN chairman, Abdullahi Ibrahim, decried the level of indiscipline and professional misconduct among lawyers. Ibrahim stated that if the legal profession must continue to succeed and excel, the senior lawyers must show good example.

He said, “The future of the legal profession is in the hands of the senior lawyers and it is imperative that we lead by example. The senior lawyers are those who ought to set the standards for the younger generation to follow.
“It stands to reason that where senior lawyers are not seen compromising the ethics of the profession for their own personal enrichment, the junior lawyers will not even dare to engage in any unethical practices.”

Ibrahim denounced the plans to bypass justices of the Court of Appeal in the appointment of justices of the Supreme Court. He said, “We must also ensure that a group in the profession is not unnecessarily given a bad name and denied opportunity which many of them have stood and worked for, only to be told without real justification that their ambitions for working in a particular area and so well cannot be achieved.

“Take for example, the on-going discussion about appointments to be made to the highest court of the land, the Supreme Court, although this has happened in the past but in a very few occasions. Is there any justified reason for the competent Justices of the Court of Appeal to be denied elevation to the Supreme Court because of some changes about to be implemented?”

He said while the on-going reforms in the judiciary were a good development, they should not be allowed to erode the gains of earlier reforms for which two outstanding retired justices were been celebrated by BoSAN. Ibrahim said the immediate past CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, and Justice Suleiman Galadima (JSC Rtd.) were honoured for their milestone contributions to the judiciary.

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