A picture of a purported lawyer has gone viral on the media showing her wearing the Professional Wig and Gown.
She exposes her stomach with a man standing by her side. The picture has elicited mixed reactions among lawyers. The concern is not the fact that she took the pictures showing her pregnancy or exposing her body, the concern is taking pictures in that situation professionally dressed (in a wig and gown).
Needless to say that the wig and the gown among others constitute a professional dress worn by lawyers for appearances before the Superior Courts of Record in Nigeria. Wearing not only outside court, but exposing ones body telling the world that one is pregnant is what contributes to its unacceptability. One cannot rule out the possibility that the purported lawyer might have done that because of her pride in the profession or excitement, but unfortunately she exceeded her boundary.
The Rules of Professional Conduct provides as follows:
“45. —– (1) Except with the permission of the Court, a lawyer appearing before a High Court, the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court shall do so in his robes.
“(2) A lawyer shall not wear the Barrister’s or Senior Advocate’s robe —–
(a) on any occasion other than in Court except as may be directed or permitted by the bar Council;” (bolded and underlined for emphasis)
By Barrister’s robe, the RPC means wig and gown among others. The above Rule is clear and unambiguous that wig and gown is to be worn in court only. That for it to be worn in any other place outside court, it must be with the leave of the Bar Council. It follows therefore that what the pregnant lawyer has done is a professional misconduct. For the avoidance of doubt, section 55. (1) of the RPC provides that:
“If a lawyer acts in contravention of any the rules in these Rules or fails to perform any of the duties imposed by the Rules, he shall guilty of a professional misconduct and liable to punishment as provided in Legal Practitioners Act, 1975.” See also Iteogu v. L.PD.C (2009) 17 NWLR(Pt. 1171) 614 S.C.
The rate at which lawyers are disregarding the provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct is becoming worrisome. The legal profession being a noble one demands a high standard of conduct from its members. Lawyers are expected to maintain a high standard of professional conduct and not to engage in any conduct which will diminish public respect in the legal profession or that will bring the profession into disrepute. Lawyers are obliged to win public respect through their conduct.
In N.B.A. v. Akintokun (2006) 13 NWLR (Pt.996) pg. 167, Per ibrahim, J.C.A. quoted with approval the lamentation of the Apex Court, as per Ademola, CJN in Legal Practitioners Ordinance (Cap. 101) v. Mciver Edewor (1968) All NLR 224 at P. 229 as follows:
“We have often said in matters of this nature that certain standards must be kept if the legal profession is to continue to command the respect of members of the public it so much serves. Mr. Peters, learned Senior State Counsel who appeared before us for the committee, has said that the reputation of the profession is at stake. We are ourselves alive to the fact that standards are falling and to save the profession we must set our faces against dishonesty and INDISCIPLINE by legal practitioners.”
It is therefore suggested that such act and similar acts which would erode public respect and attract public derision to the legal profession should be avoided. We need to have passed this level talking about other challenges of the profession and the ways forward, not matters like this.