Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Jibrin Okutepa, has said that to escape consequences after wrong exercise of freedom is not guaranteed in the constitution. Mr. Okutepa made this statement whilst reacting to statements by some lawyers criticizing some judicial officers for awarding heavy costs against lawyers who challenge some perceived judicial policies.

According to him, freedom without restraint and responsibility is dangerous. The powers to punish litigants and lawyers for frivolous processes filed vide costs and other appropriate recommendations and directives are parts and parcel of the compendium of judicial powers under section 6(6) (b) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, stressing that, whoever has unrestrained liberty will abuse it

“There have been some cases filed in our courts recent times in the name of freedom and access to courts to ventilate perceived wrongs or grievances. Many lawyers have filed some of these processes that seem to and are downright frivolous and vexatious. These processes are filed most a times to harass or embarrass political opponents or judicial officers for purely selfish reason or out of ill motive to score debating points.

As expected some judicial officers have awarded heavy costs against these lawyers and put deadlines to pay the costs. Some of the judgments also direct that these lawyers be referred to appropriate disciplinary authorities for discipline.

“Some of our colleagues have come down heavily against the decisions imposing these costs and directives that these lawyers be reported to appreciate disciplinary authorities, on the ground that the right to go to court to ventilate grievances is part of the fundamental rights in our constitution. There is no doubt the constitution guarantees right of access to our courts. There is also no doubt that there is freedom guaranteed in our constitution. But what I think is not guaranteed in the constitution is freedom to escape consequences after wrong exercise of freedom.

In any case, I think freedom without restraint and responsibility is dangerous. The powers to punish litigants and lawyers for frivolous processes filed vide costs and other appropriate recommendations and directives are parts and parcel of the compendium of judicial powers under section 6(6) (b) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended. Whoever has unrestrained liberty will abuse it,” he said.

Speaking further, he said that he does not with respect agree that some of these decisions are targeted at curtailing the exercise of freedom and access to approach courts, stressing that some of these decisions are intended to instill in us, as lawyers, the need to scrutinize very well processes we filed and to avoid filing processes that are down outrageous and outrightly frivolous and an abuse of process.

“Some of these decisions are intended to instill in us as lawyers the need to scrutinize very well processes we filed and to avoid filing processes that are down outrageous and outrightly frivolous and an abuse of process. As lawyers our duty to justice and the courts before which we appear is more than the duty we owe our clients and our pockets.

“The rules of professional conduct enjoy us to exercise restraint and caution while acting as counsel. When we throw caution to the wind and file outrageous and outrightly incompetent and frivolous processes we must expect the consequences that flow, therefore.

Therefore with respect, I beg to differ from the views held by some of our eminent colleagues that imposition of costs on those who filed processes that are adjudged frivolous is unnecessary interference with freedom and access to courts of justice. There is no freedom without restraints,” he added.

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