*Express Worry Over Increasing Number Of Frivolous Petitions Instigated By Lawyers Against Judges
A retired Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Taiwo.O Taiwo has shared some of his notable career experiences and thoughts on issues affecting the legal profession in Nigeria in an interview with The Nation.
According to Justice Taiwo who was recently extolled and honored in a special valedictory session held on 22nd of September, 2022, his elevation to the bench was more of a spiritual ordination. He noted that he never desired to be a member of the bench or the inner bar, as he cherished his practice as a regular lawyer.
He said, “My joining the Bench, I believe very sincerely was more spiritual than physical, but definitely not accidental, because as a believer and a Christian, the way I found my way to the Bench was actually ordained by God long before I was conceived.”
He continued, “I had mentioned that I never wanted to become a judge, but how did I find myself on the Bench. Sometime in early January 2015, while I was the 2nd Vice President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), I had a matter before my Lord Hon. Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia sitting in one of the courtroom just by the car park at the Federal High Court, Lagos. She rose for a while and I decided to stand outside till she got back in. My Lord and my classmate at the law school, Hon. Justice Ibrahim Buba was walking by and saw me. He called me and asked me thus: “This man how you dey? Wetin you wan do? You no apply for silk and you no come join us for Bench”.
“I told him I wanted nothing. He went further to tell me that the exercise of appointment to the Bench of the Federal High Court was ongoing if I was interested. I thanked him for the information which I was not aware of even as an officer of the NBA. I went further to tell him that I would inform my wife and pray about it. I told Toyin – that’s what I call my wife – she liked the idea because at that time I was travelling all over the country for the NBA on official duties and she was of the view that the frequency of my travelling would be reduced.”
“I then took it to God in prayers after reading a particular Psalm if I wanted a revelation. I went to bed. In the midnight, I saw a vision. I was at a function of the Federal High Court and I saw many faces of judges, particularly that of my Lords Ajumogobia and Ademola. When I entered, there was no seat but I saw a policeman sitting comfortably. I went to him, and asked him to vacate his seat. I actually commanded him to get up and that was it. I woke up from my sleep, tapped my wife and told her of what I saw in the dream. I then told her that I would give it a trial by applying to the Bench in this court.”
“At that time, too, God told me to limit my decision to very few people and that I should not even tell any pastor. Thus, I kept my decision from many of my friends, especially one person who is very close to me and was actually doing all he could for me to take the silk, Lanre Ogunlesi, SAN, and one other highly- revered person who is like a mother to me, Mrs. Hairat Ade-Balogun. They were shocked, like many people when words eventually got out that I had been shortlisted.”
In the interview, Justice Taiwo proceeded to address sundry issues including lawyers instigating their clients to write petitions against Judges, problem of lawyers insulting judges, indiscriminately condemning judgements etc.
On the issue of lawyers instigating their clients to write petitions against judges, he said, “I am bothered by many issues I noticed in my years in active legal practice and, most especially, in the few years I spent on the Bench. One of them is the spate at which lawyers instigate their clients to write petitions against judges. I must state that I am aware that in some instances there may be justification for it, but more often than not, the petitions are frivolous to the extent of being ridiculous. I am aware that some lawyers engage in this practice when their case is bad, when they want to delay the matter or when they would rather prefer their case to be handled by another judge other than whom it was assigned.”
He further questioned, “How can you write a petition and ask that a case be transferred because a judge asked you to go and serve your court processes out of jurisdiction of the court in Nigeria when cases abound on service without leave? It happened to me. How can anyone write a petition against a judge for granting an ex parte application when you could file an application that the order be discharged? How can you write a petition alleging that the judge does not like you and he is always giving judgment against you, a conclusion that is not entirely right?”
He also condemned the trend of lawyers showing disrespect and arrogance to Judges. Justice Taiwo who had 27 years of robust practice experience before venturing to the bench remarked that respect is reciprocal, and lawyers must of necessity accord the bench required deference in the conduct of their cases. “I am bothered by the arrogance of some members of the inner and outer Bar when conducting cases in court. Some have no respect anymore for the Bench. How can one explain a Senior Advocate of Nigeria asking me to come and handle the cross examination of a witness just because I informed him that the venue of the commission of a crime was better left for the address stage. But for the intervention of other gentlemen of the inner Bar present in court on that day, I would have committed him for contempt in facie curia.
I am of the view that respect begets respect and that as a lawyer you must respect the Bench. You can insult a judge in words if you so wish, but it does not portray you as a gentleman in line with the ethics of our noble profession. I am also bothered where some senior members of the Bar send juniors to appear in cases because they want an adjournment. I can go on and on. In all my years at the Bar, I never wrote any petition against a judge, even in one or two instances when I should. I would rather withdraw from the case which I did on one or two occasions or appeal any judgment or order. I’ve had to return files to my clients to engage another lawyer, when I knew I could no longer appear before a judge. Lawyers should desist from filing frivolous cases and applications, the end of which would delay the course of justice and erode the confidence of the public in the judicial process.”
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