Law News
Our profession needs cleansing –Senior lawyers

A tactic that has been thoroughly abused in the legal profession is the use of frivolous applications to frustrate cases.

Such applications are not usually limited to criminal cases in which they are aimed at causing delay with its deleterious effect on the case of the prosecution; lawyers have also been found to be filing unwarranted motions to scuttle enforcement of judgments in civil cases.

On June 16 last year, the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee issued a press release threatening to withdraw the Senior Advocate of Nigeria rank of a lawyer, Mr. Jadegoke Badejo, if he would not desist from engaging in “professional misconduct”.

The LPPC had said that upon investigating a petition against Badejo, it decided to warn him against unprofessional practices while carrying out his duties.

The statement was issued by the then LPPC secretary and Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Sunday Olorudahunsi, (now a high court judge in Ondo State).

It said Badejo was accused of deliberately and unprofessionally instructing or sanctioning the filing of series of applications and withdrawing same to deprive beneficiaries of the fruit of the judgment they obtained eight years ago.

The statement read, “The LPPC received a petition on the professional misconduct of J. A. Badejo, SAN, having deliberately and unprofessionally instructed or sanctioned the filing of series of applications and withdrawing same to deprive the petitioner/claimants from the fruit of their judgment obtained eight years ago.

“After consideration of the response of J. A. Badejo, SAN, and the outcome of the investigation by the sub-committee set up by the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee, the Committee at its general meeting held on the 12th day of June, 2014 decided to warn the learned Senior Advocate to desist from such conduct and henceforth conduct his cases in the best tradition of the legal profession. In addition, to uphold the honour and dignity which the rank of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria commands.

“Furthermore, the non-compliance of the above stated would cause the committee to invoke the provision of paragraph 22(1) of the LPPC guideline which empowers the committee to withdraw the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria from holders found to be involved in professional misconduct.”

Earlier, the committee had in 2013 suspended a Lagos-based Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Ajibola Aribisala, from further using the rank after he was found wanting in a petition written against him by Fidelity Bank Plc.

The LPPC lifted the suspension in October 2014 after 20 months.

Aribisala’s SAN rank was suspended by the LPPC on February 26, 2013 based on two petitions on “allegations of flagrant breach of professional ethics and professional misconduct” against him.

Olorundahunsi had, in a statement, said that the decision to restore the lawyer’s SAN rank followed the withdrawal of the petitions against him and the consideration of the terms of settlement between the parties concerned in the petitions.

But the LPPC warned Aribisala to desist from the unethical acts for which his SAN rank was suspended, adding that any other breach attributable to him in the future would attract a stiffer sanction.

The statement read, “You may all recall that on the 26th day February, 2013 the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee at its General Meeting suspended Chief A. A. Aribisala (SAN) from further use of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria based on two petitions received by the LPPC on allegations of flagrant breach of professional ethics and professional misconduct.

“On the 27th day of October, 2014 the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee at its General Meeting has decided to lift Chief A.A. Aribisala’s suspension, after consideration of all material facts (Notices of withdrawal/discontinuance and subsequent letter of withdrawal of petition and terms of settlement).

“Pursuant to the committee’s decision, Chief Aribisala is hereby restored to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria with effect from the 27th day of October, 2014.

“Futhermore, the committee hereby declares that any future act by Chief Aribisala that runs foul of paragraph 22 of the LPPC rules shall attract a stiffer sanction.”

Part of the allegations against Aribisala was that the charges for certain legal services he rendered to Fidelity Bank were excessive and in breach of Rules of Professional Conduct in Legal Profession.

Last Wednesday, Justice Adeniyi Ademola of a Federal High Court in Abuja frowned on another SAN, Mr. Sunday Ameh, over frivolous filing of applications allegedly to frustrate a case challenging the eligibility of his client, Christian Abah, to stand for the March 28, 2015, National Assembly election in Ado/Okpokwu/Ogbadibo Federal Constituency of Benue State.

On Thursday, which was the following day after Justice Ademola’s judgment, the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee in Abuja, expelled a Senior Advocate of Nigerian, Chief Kunle Kalejaye, from further practising as a lawyer.

The LPDC disbarred Kalejaye after finding him guilty of professional misconduct by a five-man panel of the LPDC led by the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa.

The LPDC found Kalejaye guilty of misconduct which he allegedly engaged in while representing the Peoples Democratic Party and its candidate, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, at the Osun State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal, where Oyinlola’s victory in the 2007 poll was being challenged.

The petition was filed by the then candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, who is now serving his second term in office as Osun State governor.

Kalejaye was said to have engaged in “private and confidential telephone conversation” with the Chairman of the Osun State Governorship Election Petitions Tribunal, Justice Thomas Naron, without the knowledge of the other party.

He allegedly engaged in the unprofessional act between March and June 2008 and Justice Naron with whom he committed the misconduct had since February 20, 2013 been compulsorily retired by the National Judicial Council.

The Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Ekiti Division, Justice Paul Galinje, who read the directive (judgment of the LPDC) on Thursday, held that the prosecution, the Nigerian Bar Association, proved its three-count complaint against Kalejaye.

Disciplinary actions against lawyers are infrequent, perhaps it is the reason that unwholesome practices are still highly rampant in the legal profession.

It could also be the reason some senior lawyers have described the LPDC’s sanction against Kalejaye as a welcome development which, according to them, will serve as a warning to the rest of the members of the noble profession.

For instance, a former President of the NBA, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), says the LPDC’s verdict was the best to rescue the profession from progressive downward slide.

Agbakoba says though it took so long, the decision will go a long way in the effort to strengthen the Nigerian Bar.

He says, “It’s the proper decision to take in order to curb the massive slide in the Nigerian legal profession.

“I was the (NBA) President at the time when the petition came up in respect of Osun tribunal and I set up the panel. Even though it has taken so long, because I am surprised that it took over five years, but that’s what should happen if you want to strengthen Nigeria. I think it’s a correct decision.”

Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria and a Professor of Law, Itse Sagay, describes the decision of the LPDC in Kalejaye’s case as meritorious.

Sagay says without that kind of firm decision, the Nigerian Bar will soon crash under the weight of impunity.

He says, “Without some minimum level of ethics in any profession, in any institution, that institution will simply crash. Nigeria currently is groaning and gradually crashing under the weight of impunity.

“That was an act of impunity or suspected impunity involving a very senior legal practitioner, who was going behind in an election tribunal case to engage the tribunal judge privately to secure an advantage for his client and to therefore perverse the course of justice.

“A senior lawyer doing that, is a very major offence; a capital offence in the legal profession. The Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee has done the right thing.”

For Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN), lawyers in the country have a lot of lessons to take away from Kalejaye’s case. Ngige says the sanction meted out to Kalejaiye was a wake-up call on Nigerian lawyers to be careful in their dealings with politicians.

Ngige says, “At the time when Kalejaye was accused of misconduct, he was counsel for Oyinlola and that was Aregbesola’s opponent at the election tribunal. Today, Oyinlola and Aregbesola are in the same political party but Kalejaye is now suffering for what he was said to have done for Oyinlola.

“The lesson for lawyers in this is to be very careful in their dealings with politicians. Clients come and go but the legal profession remains. So, lawyers must be very careful; do the job and leave the politicians to sort themselves out.”

A Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Dele Adeogun, adds that the LPDC decision coming at this moment should serve as warning to lawyers who are currently handling petitions which emanated from the last general elections.

Adeogun says both judges and lawyers have to take the LPDC decision in Kalejaye’s case as a warning.

He says, “I think what this has done is to make all of us, particularly in this season of election petitions, to be very careful.

“Either as a lawyer called to defend a client or as a member of the panel, which is adjudicating over election petitions, everyone needs to be above board.

“If we begin to have communication between a lawyer and the judge, I think everything must be done to discourage that. And that is the only way that I think we can get the people to believe in the system once again and I think it is the best way to preserve the integrity of the judiciary.”

Also responding, another Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Wahab Shittu, urged his colleagues to hold their integrity dear while going about their business.

He said, “Kunle Kalejaye’s predicament is a sad commentary; no one will pray to attain such a height in his/her professional career only to be brought down so shamelessly.

‘The lesson is that integrity and character remain tools that every professional must respect without compromise.

“Reputation is what makes anyone a human being. Remove it and what you will have left is an empty shell.

“I really sympathise with Kunle Kalejaye while believing that others will draw useful lessons from this experience.”

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