SPEECH DELIVERED BY HON. JUSTICE DR. I. T. MUHAMMAD. CF & LIFE BENCHER, CHAIRMAN, BODY OF BENCHERS AND ACTING CHIEF JUSTICE OF NIGERIA AT THE CALL TO BAR CEREMONIES HELD AT THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE CENTRE, ABUJA, ON TUESDAY, 9TH, JULY, 2019.
• The Vice Chairman, Body of Benchers,
Mr. O. C. J. Okocha, MFR, SAN, Life Bencher
• Past Chairmen of the Body of Benchers,
• Former Chief Justices of Nigeria,
• Distinguished Members of the Body of Benchers,
• The Chairman, Council of Legal Education
Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN
• Honourable Judges and Kadis,
• President of the Nigerian Bar Association
Mr. Paul Usoro, SAN
• Distinguished and Honourable Members of the National Assembly,
• Members of the lnner and outer Bar,
• Your Royal Highnesses,
• The New Wigs,
• Proud Parents and Guardians,
• Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press,
• Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen
I will start by thanking God Almighty for making this July, 2019 Call to Bar Ceremonies a reality. This is an occasion that marks the admission of new wigs into the noble profession of law in Nigeria. I rejoice with you, the new wigs, for successfully attaining this height in both your educational and professional career. It is an evidence of hard work, with the help of Almighty God and support of your parents, guardians and friends.
The journey that lies ahead of you is by far more than the distance you have so far covered. It is important for you to know that days are expensive in the sense that when you spend a day, you have one less day to spend, so make sure you spend each day wisely. I therefore urge you that in the days and years to come, you must remain steadfast, dedicated and persevere at all times. This way, you will succeed as lawyers.
From this day onwards, your status has changed; so much will be expected of you by your families, friends, the society and the general public. There are weightier responsibilities attached to lawyers, therefore, learn to set goals for yourselves so as to effectively discharge those responsibilities. As the saying goes, whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve. Your future in this profession lies in your hands, for that reason, you must plan your live otherwise others will plan it for you and they may not have your best interest at heart.
I wish to use this medium to appreciate the Body of Benchers, the Body with the highest distinction in the Legal Profession in Nigeria, for making this day possible. I commend the Screening Committee of the Body for being diligent in the course of screening to ensure that only fit and proper persons are admitted to the Bar.
On behalf of the members of the Body of Benchers, I congratulate your parents, guardians, friends and well-wishers for witnessing this event. I likewise commend the Council of Legal Education and the Nigerian Law School for the exceptional role of providing sound education to would-be lawyers. The Law School indeed is a breeding ground where lawyers in the making receive thorough training on the rudiments of the legal profession.
May I use this medium to congratulate Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN on his well deserved appointment as the Chairman of the Council of Legal Education. I wish you a successful tenure and urge you to put in your best as you pilot the affairs of the Council.
As has been the tradition, I will like to offer a few words of advice to you as you begin your journey in this profession which has generally being described as the only learned profession in the universe.
Duties and Responsibilities of a Lawyer
The United Nations Human Rights Basic Principles on the Role of a Lawyer provides amongst others as follows:
1. Lawyers shall at all times maintain the honour and dignity their profession as essential agents of the administration justice.
2. The duties of lawyers towards their clients shall include:
a) Advising clients as to their legal rights and obligations, and as to the working of the legal system in so far as it is relevant to the legal rights and obligations of the clients;
b) Assisting clients in every appropriate way, and taking legal action to protect their interests;
c) Assisting clients before courts, tribunals or administrative authorities, where appropriate
3. Lawyers, in protecting the rights of their clients and in promoting the cause of justice, shall seek to uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms recognized by national and international law and shall at all times act freely and diligently in accordance with the law and recognized standards and ethics of the legal profession.
4. Lawyers shall always respect the interests of their clients.
Similarly, the Rules of Professional Conduct applicable to legal practitioners in Nigeria provides that a lawyer shall uphold and observe the Rule of Law, promote and foster the course of justice, maintain a high standard of professional conduct. A lawyer is expected to represent his client within the bounds of the law, represent his clients competently, and have a good working relationship with other lawyers and the Courts,
The Supreme Court in the case of Ben Chidoka v. First City Finance Company Limited held that:
“A Counsel is a master of the case he conducts. He may decide not to call any witness or cross examine the witnesses of the other party. However, where a Counsel negligently conducts his client’s case, he is liable to be sued for professional negligence”.
It is your duty as lawyers to administer justice within the ambits of the law, guided by your conscience and extant laws. While it is desirable to succeed early as legal practitioners, you must avoid the get-rich-quick syndrome. To my mind, if your motive of joining the Legal Profession is to get rich easily, then you are entering with an entirely wrong motive. In fact, you may end up being frustrated.
For those of you that are desirous of engaging in active private legal practice, I urge you to do so with all fairness and ensure that you explore all available means towards dispute resolution. Litigation is good, but should be seen as a last resort. In the words of Abraham Lincoln:
“Discourage litigation; persuade your neighbours to compromise whenever you can. Point out to them how the nominal winner is often a real loser in fees, expenses, and waste of time. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man”
Therefore, exercise your duties diligently, work hard and keep trusting God and I assure you, you shall enjoy good success.
Body of Benchers
I am sure by now you are familiar with the Body of Benchers because one of the condition precedents to your being called to the Bar is for you to be sponsored by two members of the Body. The Body of Benchers is the body with the highest distinction in the legal profession in Nigeria.
The primary function of the Body of Benchers is the formal Call to the Bar of persons desirous of being part of the legal profession in Nigeria, just as we have witnessed today. By virtue of being called to the Bar and issued with Qualifying and Call to Bar Certificates by this august Body, you are now qualified to be addressed as Barristers and Solicitors of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and have the right of audience in any Court of the land, from the Magistrate Court right up to the Supreme Court.
However, I must advice that you seek to groom yourselves under a reputable senior colleague that will guide you on the fundamentals of law practice.
While the Body of Benchers is saddled with the responsibility of admitting aspirants to the Bar, it is likewise saddled with disciplinary powers over all lawyers in Nigeria. The Body of Benchers is responsible for ensuring discipline and sanity within the legal profession, among others.
Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee
As earlier stated, one of the functions of the Body of Benchers disciplining of erring lawyers. This very important function performed by the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC), The Committee is responsible for considering and determining allegations of misconduct against any person whose name is on the Roll in his capacity as a Legal Practitioner and is capable of bringing our noble profession into disrepute.
May I use this medium to commend the Committee and by extension, the Body of Benchers for successfully hosting the stakeholders interaction which took place recently. The interaction became necessary in order to chart a course for the LPDC for smooth operation of its activities. I hope the interaction will yield the desired objectives.
You are therefore advised to be of good behavior and adhere to the provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct for legal practitioners in order to avoid being brought before the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee. In the event of a breach of the Rules, the Committee could make an order of suspension for a certain number of years, debarment or admonition. The nature of Direction would be dependent on the facts and surrounding circumstance of each case.
The dignity of the Courtroom must be valued and maintained at all times. As lawyers, you are expected to exhibit high level of ethical conduct while in the Court. You must learn to respect the Court in order to be regarded and accorded respect as ministers in the temple of justice. You are expected to rise, and remain standing when addressing the Court or being addressed by the Judge.
Avoid making impolite remarks against the Court, This position was reiterated in the case of Obi v. Peter where it was held, inter alia,
“There are civilized ways to put arguments across to a Court than to use offensive words that are calculated to show disrespect for the Court. Impolite remarks serve no useful purpose except to reduce the integrity of the Court before litigants, which is not good for the legal profession”.
One habit unbecoming of lawyers in recent times is the issue of improper dressing. You are required to dress properly and in a dignified manner as well as refrain from any apparel or glamorous outfit calculated to attract attention to yourself. The provisions of Rule 36 of the Rules of Professional Conduct is explicit on the issue of Courtroom decorum, therefore should not be taken lightly. Avoid disparaging personal remarks or acrimony toward opposing counsel and remain wholly detached from any ill feeling between the litigants or witnesses.
When in Court, you should conduct yourself with decency, decorum and observe the conduct and codes of dressing, manners and courtesy. It is important to note that failure to adhere to any or all provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct would amount to an infraction that can be tried by the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee.
On no account should you mislead the Court. You must cite your legal authorities accurately while addressing the Court or preparing your processes. In the case of Ben Chidoka v. First City Finance Company Limited the Supreme Court held that:
“A Counsel who wants the Court to make use of the authorities cited must provide and cite the cases with clarity, that is, the name of the parties, the year the case was delivered, if unreported, a Certified True Copy. Where the case has been reported, the name of the Law Report, the year, volume and the page”.
May I also use this medium to urge lawyers to desist from the habit of debating or subjecting to debate matters pending before the Courts. This habit is highly unprofessional and greatly frowned against, I call on the Nigerian Bar Association to take necessary disciplinary measures against such lawyers.
Nigerian Bar Association:
The Nigerian Bar Association is a professional body for all lawyers in Nigeria. Being a member of the Nigerian Bar Association has its own attendant benefit which cannot be overemphasized. You are advised to formerly register with the Association and actively participate in its activities.
The Nigerian Bar Association has so many programmes and opportunities for you lawyers. Take advantage of the opportunities to equip yourselves for the task ahead.
In conclusion, I urge you as lawyers to always be proactive and think outside the box. Success comes to those who worked and are prepared for it. In the words of Albert Schweitzer (a German philosopher):
“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”
I formally welcome you all to the Bar, my brand new learned friends. May Almighty Allah (SWT) in His infinite mercies grant you wisdom and knowledge to succeed within and outside the profession.
CHAIRMAN’S CHARGE TO NEW LEGAL PRACTITIONERS
In line ‘with the time honoured tradition, I hereby close with the Chairman’s charge to our newly called Legal Practitioners.
“YOU MAY NOW GO FORTH IN YOUR NEW WIGS FROM THIS DAY FORWARD TO SERVE NIGERIA AND SERVE HUMANITY”IN TTTSTICE, WITHOUT FEAR OR FAVOUR, AFFECTTON OR ILL WILL.”
Thank you for listening. God bless you all.
Hon. Justice Dr. I. T. Muhammad, CFR
Chairman, Body of Benchers
(Ag) Chief Justice of Nigeria
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