A legal practitioner based in Port Harcourt Mrs Nancy OBINWA has shown dissatisfaction on the directives of the Chief Justice of Nigeria over the use of Mrs, Miss, Ms in Court by female lawyers while announcing appearance.
Mrs Obinwa, shared her musings on the CJN’s latest “legislation”. In court today Mrs Obinwa announced her appearance without prefix of Mrs. and in the course of proceedings the Honourable Court addressed her as Mrs. Obinwa. Can we really help hearing prefix of Miss and Mrs. in court?)
She said,”she really thinks that the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) meant well when he pronounced on the use of Esquire for lawyers’ appearance in court whether male or female, married or single. It evokes GENDER PARITY. It promotes UNIFORMITY”.
However, she stated that “the use of Esquire by female lawyers denies the female gender the right to be female and be a lawyer. It suggests that a woman is incapable of being a lawyer. She has to first “evolve” to a man to be able to be a lawyer. It suggests that being a man “Manness” or “Manity” (my coinage) is a status, a rank, something to be attained, achieved, earned”.
“The origin of the legal profession as practised today was associated with the men folk. Women did not acquire any formal education. They were regarded as chattels and were even at sometime not considered to be human beings! Oh yes! but that’s a story for another day. So it wasn’t just envisioned that someday, females will be so educated and learned and be lawyers. The law profession was strictly for men and everything around it was tailored exclusively for men”.
“The use of Esquire for lawyers likewise can be traced to the United Kingdom. It was a title of respect accorded exclusively to men of higher social rank,” she added.
She further said “the reference to all lawyers as gentlemen did not also start today but has its origins to the very beginning of the study and practice of law by the finest of men who are better addressed as gentlemen”.
“If learning is a key to becoming a lawyer, to the female gender it also shows the male folk that having a womb did not take away their ability to learn. They discovered their potential, shattered the glass ceiling and earned their place in the practice of law. They have virtually occupied every exalted position in law practice: @ the Bench: they are Magistrates, Judges, Chief Judges, Justices, Chief Justices; @ the Bar: Attorney Generals, Senior Advocates/Queens Counsel; In the Academia: Fellows, Doctors, Professors, Vice Chancellors,” Mrs Obinwa said.
According to Mrs Obinwa “the CJN with his far reaching powers has advised lawyers on how to make appearances in court. While uniformity is good for the profession generally speaking, it can’t hold sway for all things and at all times in the legal profession. The dressing of both genders though similar, differs. Collars and bibs are for men while collaretes are for women. The men still wear trousers while the women wear skirts and dresses. Jackets, wigs and gowns are still worn in common tailored to each lawyer’s size”.
“If the profession recognized the two genders and prescribed different dress codes, then it can accommodate more in terms of appearance in court”, she said.
“Another issue that supports a limit to Uniformity in the legal profession is in the course of proceedings in court. When female lawyers announce appearance in court as Esquire, how will the court address counsel as is often the case in the course of proceedings? The most formal way is with the use of a prefix before the surname. For the men, it is given: “Mr.” But for the women, it has to be “Miss” or “Mrs.” At what point does the judge become aware of this if not at announcing appearance? Perhaps a solution would be to have attendance recorded in writing and submitted to the court prior to sitting with prefix of Miss or Mrs. and not “Esquire”. Prefix of Dr. or Prof. or indeed Chief, Prince or Princess poses no qualms,”
“The issue of uniformity is not just at the Bar but also at the Bench. It doesn’t really augur well when a female judge is addressed as “he”.
“I did not think much of this issue but after listening to an erudite legal luminary, Prof. Clement C. J. Dakas in 2016 that I had a rethink. He presented a sound argument on why female judges should not be robbed of their gender and feminity in addressing them on the job. A recitation in honour of a female judge introduces her as a woman and gives brief family background but suddenly there’s a switch and she is referred to as “He”, Nkech said.
The CJN must have meant well in his advice to jettison what some may consider discriminatory but really, is it discriminatory to recognize the female gender in law practice as female”, she asked?
According to the lawyer, she choose to take solace in the fact that law is dynamic and so is culture/tradition and the use of “Miss” “Mrs.” or “Esq.” will be reconsidered by the CJN.