*Makes Proposal For Resuscitation Of LPDC Which Has Not Sat Since September 2021
*Condemns Forum Shopping By Lawyers And Sets Committee To Address Menace
*Proposes Body of Benchers Advisory Committee To Interface With Judiciary Particularly on Issue Of Welfare
*Says Body Of Benchers Complex Now Set For Commissioning
ADDRESS DELIVERED BY CHIEF WOLE OLANIPEKUN, OFR, SAN, CHAIRMAN BODY OF BENCHERS AT THE EMERGENCY MEETING OF THE BODY OF BENCHERS HELD ON TUESDAY, 21ST JUNE, 2022.
2.1 May I welcome all distinguished and honourable members of the Body of Benchers (Body) to this emergency meeting and also thank you profoundly for your attendance. In my acceptance speech as the Chairman of this august Body on 31st March, 2022, I prepared your mind to the fact that we would be having extra/emergency meetings in addition to the three statutory meetings provided for in our Regulations, particularly as paragraph 5.1 of the Regulations permits the Chairman to summon such meetings. This is the first of such emergency meetings, and I want to plead for your cooperation for this and other such meetings that may be called.
3.0 THE BODY OF BENCHERS AS CONSTITUTED BY STATUTE
3.1 Section 3(1) of the Legal Practitioners Act provides thus:
“There shall be a body of legal practitioners of the highest distinction in the legal profession in Nigeria to be known as “the Body of Benchers” which shall be responsible for performing the functions and duties imposed upon it under this Act and which shall consist of the following members, that is…”
3.2 By the composition of the Body, the statute ensures that all segments of the legal profession are adequately represented. It is thus not a surprise that any sitting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justices of the Supreme Court, President of the Court of Appeal, Presiding Justices of the Court of Appeal in all the Divisions, Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Chief Judge of every State, Attorney General of the Federation and all Attorneys General of the States, sitting President of the Nigerian Bar Association and 30 members of the Association, Chairman of the Council of Legal Education, Life Benchers, and such co-opted 10 members as provided for under section 3(1)(f), all congregate in this eminent assembly. It is also not surprising that the statute describes the members constituting this Body as „legal practitioners of the highest distinction in the legal profession in Nigeria…‟. In the wisdom of the statute, all of us here are described as „legal practitioners of the highest distinction in the legal profession in Nigeria.’
3.3 Section 10 of the Act defines the functions of the Body. We are all very familiar with our responsibility of formally calling legal practitioners to the Nigerian Bar. This time around, I want to draw our attention to Section 10 (1) (b) and (c) which, for ease of reference, reads thus:
“The exercise of disciplinary jurisdiction over members of the legal profession and over students seeking to become legal practitioners; taking all measures (whether making regulations pursuant to the powers conferred on it by this section or otherwise howsoever) which appear to it to be necessary or expedient for maintaining at all times the traditional values of the legal profession …”
3.4 Our emergency meeting of today will, amongst others, focus on the provisions Section 10 (1) (b) and (c), id est, exercising disciplinary jurisdiction over members of the legal profession and „making Regulations pursuant to the powers conferred on the body by this section or otherwise howsoever … for maintaining at all times the traditional values of the legal profession.’
4.0 CONSTITUTION OF THE LEGAL PRACTITIONERS DISCIPLINARY COMMITTEE (LPDC)
4.1 The LPDC is a very important Committee of the Body, saddled with very enormous powers, relating to the discipline of legal practitioners, including giving directions to the Registrar of the Supreme Court to order the striking off the roll of the name of any legal practitioner, who has been adjudged guilty of any charge filed against him or her before the Committee, suspension of such a legal practitioner or admonishing him. Appeals from the directions of the Committee go directly to the Supreme Court, and not to the Body of Benchers. In his valedictory speech, on 31st March, 2022, the immediate past chairman of this Body, Hon. Justice Olabode Rhode-Vivour, JSC, CON, enthused thus:
“The need for maintaining discipline and upholding the ethics of the Law Profession cannot be overemphasized hence the need to continue to strengthen and enhance the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee. May I remind us, that it is our collective responsibility as members of the highest distinguished Body in the Law Profession to protect the core values of our noble profession from corrupt or unethical practice by some lawyers.”
One cannot agree more with his Lordship. However, it is not encouraging news that this very important Committee has not sat since September 2021, for reasons which are not unknown to us. I want to plead, most sincerely, that we do not allow a repeat of what happened, leading to the lull. To resuscitate and strengthen the Committee, I am presenting a memorandum to this meeting for your consideration; but let me make it clear that the said memorandum or any other memorandum or proposal so presented by me at this meeting is not all-inclusive or comprehensive of the subject it addresses, hence, the need for members to make contributions so that we can achieve the best for the Committee and our profession.
5.0 THE MENACE OF FORUM SHOPPING IN THE LEGAL PROFESION AND THE
NEED FOR THE BODY TO MAKE REGULATIONS TO STEM THE THREATENING
5.1 We are all cognizant of the menace of forum shopping which is far permeating the entire legal landscape in Nigeria today, as a result of which conflicting orders and decisions of courts of coordinate jurisdiction, are being churned out so regularly and constantly by our courts. Tirades, venoms and much uncomplimentary remarks and sentences are being passed on the legal profession by the discerning public as a result of this ugly trend. Despite the recent interventions of the Honourable Chief Justice of Nigeria, through Directions his Lordship gave to all heads of courts and presiding Judges, the disturbing trend has not abated. Again, may I remind this Body that we are imbued with the power, duty and jurisdiction under the LPA to make Regulations to arrest this disturbing practice, more particularly, on the part of legal practitioners who initiate such proceedings. Therefore, it is my proposal, through this address, that this Body sets up a Committee to, as urgently as practicable, draft a set of Regulations in respect of Forum for initiating actions/proceedings by legal practitioners in courts across various jurisdictions in Nigeria, and matters related hereto. This is without prejudice to various Rules of our courts, which, for now, the concerned legal practitioners are treating with levity. If and when approved, it may be cited as The Body of Benchers Regulations ____. It is my prayer that a 5-man Committee be constituted to treat this matter with utmost urgency and submit its draft in two weeks.
6.0 BODY OF BENCHERS ADVISORY COMMITTEE
6.1 In view of recent happenings in our superior courts, including the Supreme Court, particularly relating to complaints by Judges/Justices of very poor welfare infrastructure, and which complaints have been escalated in the media, both traditional and social (media) may I suggest/propose that the Body of Benchers should have a standing committee, known, described or designated as „Advisory Committee on the Judiciary‟,
saddled with the responsibility, amongst others, to always and constantly interface with members of the Bench at any level and at anywhere, whether at the Federal or State level, in other to earnestly address all concerns and complaints, and, where necessary, take such concerns and complaints up with the appropriate authorities. Subject to the decision of this Body, such Committee can be made up
(amongst others) of past Chief Justices of Nigeria, past Presidents of the Court of Appeal, past and serving Chairmen of the Body of Benchers, past and serving Presidents of the Nigerian Bar Association, who are members of the Body of Benchers. The functions of this Committee as being suggested have nothing to do with the functions or jurisdiction of the National Judicial Council (NJC) at the Federal level or the State Judicial Service Commission at the State level. In any event, the problems at hand seem to be beyond such Bodies, at the Federal and State levels.
6.2 May I repeat that this Committee is not intended to takeover, assume, or stray into the jurisdiction and functions of either the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC) or NJC, but purely as an advisory Committee. I am of the view that it is high time this Body set up such an advisory Committee, and the time to do so is now. The problems facing our Judiciary are far reaching. They include inadequate remuneration for judicial personnel, lack of conducive working environment, whether in the office or at home, uncertainty of payment of due entitlements after retirement, insecurity of tenure etc. If this proposal is accepted and adopted, the Committee will be at liberty to draw its own agenda and make recommendations to this Body. Such agenda may include, looking into the entire package of judicial personnel of each of our superior courts of record; and in going about this, the Committee will also have the latitude to look into and compare what packages are made available to judicial personnel of other countries, in and out of Africa.
7.0 LEGAL PRACTITIONERS AMENDMENT BILL
7.1 For years now, this Bill has been with the Body of Benchers, and at most of our meetings, it has always been a subject of in-depth discussion and debate. In the two meetings preceding the last one, tensions were high on the issue of who should control the NBA as proposed in the amended Bill. As the Vice-Chairman then, I had to plead that the NBA be allowed some time to consider or reconsider its position as canvassed by the President of the Association. In his Lordship‟s valedictory speech earlier referred to, my worthy and immediate predecessor-in-office, Hon, Justice Olabode Rhodes Vivour, JSC, CON, pleaded thus, in respect of the Bill:
“Members may recall that a Harmonization Committee was constituted by this Body and charged with the responsibility of harmonizing various versions of proposed amendments, with the aim of having an amended Legal Practitioners Act that is all encompassing. The National Assembly is still in the process of the amendment and the Harmonization Committee is working assiduously to come up with a holistic version of the proposed Bill to be presented by the Body of Benchers to the National Assembly. I urge the Nigerian Bar Association to sheathe its sword and adopt the proposals considered and approved by the Body in the overall interest of the Profession as time is of the essence. The need to amend the Legal Practitioners Act need not be overemphasised. Law is not static, where there is need to further amend in the future, then due process would be followed. Therefore, I humbly suggest that the harmonized version of the Legal Practitioners Act be transmitted to the National Assembly.”
7.2 Again, I cannot say more or improve on what the distinguished Jurist has said, except to add that the tenure of the 9th Session of the present National Assembly terminates at the end of May/ early June, 2023, and if this Bill is not passed into Law before the end of the tenure, we would have to start again when the 10th Session of the National Assembly resumes. Apart from the work done by the Harmonization Committee and the debates we have always had on the Bill at our meetings, a lot of resources and logistics have gone into the preparation, articulation and presentation of the Bill. We cannot afford to recycle the resources and logistics all over. In effect, we need to approve the Bill very urgently and transmit it to the National Assembly. Time is of the essence of the passage, and that time is not in our favour.
8.0 BODY OF BENCHERS HALL/COMPLEX
8.1 The magnificent Body of Benchers Hall/Edifice is virtually completed. It was the intention of my immediate predecessor-in-office, Hon. Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, JSC, CON, that the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR, should formally commission the edifice last year. But this was not to be, for reasons beyond his Lordship’s control. For now, all hands are on deck at putting final touches to the completion and commissioning of the edifice. On behalf of all of us, I appreciate the efforts of all members of the Building Committee, who have collectively done us proud. At the appropriate time and place,
they and all others who have immensely contributed to the building of the Hall will be duly appreciated.
8.2 For now, and subject to the decision of the Body, I think the next Call to the Bar, coming up on 27th and 28th July, 2022 should take place at the main Hall, which can conveniently accommodate over 3,000 people. In recent years, we have spent so much at renting either the Eagles Square or the International Conference Centre for our Call to Bar ceremonies. Again, we do not have much resources at our disposal. I have, so far, personally contacted members of the Building Committee on this subject, and subject to the overall decision of the Body, I propose that the next Call to Bar ceremony should be held at this premises, which belongs to us. We do not need to be further scared of the weather, apart from the fact that we will no longer be paying for any rented venue. In the meantime, we are linking up with the Presidency so as to have an idea of what the convenience of Mr. President would be for the formal commissioning of the complex.
9.1 In conclusion, I thank all distinguished members of the Body of Benchers for attending this meeting, and for your cooperation so far. I plead and solicit for your unflinching cooperation and understanding throughout my tenure as the Chairman of Body of Benchers.
Chief Wole Olanipekun, OFR, SAN, LL.D., D.Litt., FCIArb., FNIALS
Chairman, Body of Benchers
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