Activation of the Decisions Or Directions of the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee; When Commenced
The legal practice being a noble profession, is one of the most regulated profession if not the overall in the world. The standard of practice and conduct required of a legal practitioner in Nigeria is synonymous to the standard required of Angels who are working for God Almighty.
Rule 1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners provides for the general responsibility of a lawyer. The rule states thus;
“A lawyer shall uphold and observe the rule of law, promote and foster the cause of justice, maintain a high standard of professional conduct, and shall not engage in any conduct which is unbecoming of a legal practitioner”
The above rule of the professional conduct operates like an omnibus clause in a motion before the court. The said rule houses every other rules guiding the conduct of the legal practitioners in Nigeria. It is the father of all other rules as it summarizes the entire duties of a legal practitioner in Nigeria. By the said rule, a high standard of professional conduct is expected of every legal practitioner in Nigeria and hence, the Establishment of the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee among other regulating bodies to ensure that the needed standard in legal practice is maintained.
It is often said that in every twelve, there must be a Judas. Someone just have to betray Jesus one way or the other. The question is, who will it be? The legal practice is a noble profession meant to be practiced by noble men. of honour. However, findings show that even in the midst of nobility, some men of the profession are not noble and hence, the need to appear before the disciplinary committee of the legal practitioners.
This is not to say that any lawyer who appears before the legal practitioner’s disciplinary committee without more, is a man without a noble conduct. It will amount to fallacious fallacy to come to that as a conclusion.
The legal Practitioners disciplinary committee is meant to entertain complaint brought against legal practitioners called and enrolled to practice as barristers and solicitors of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. The complaint could either be lodged by members of the public who by themselves are not legal practitioners or by fellow legal practitioners who alleges that a legal practitioner is not operating within the confines of the law and ethics of the profession.
Upon lodging of the complaint through the appropriate bodies and channels, a charge is preferred against the said legal practitioner for him to enter his defense as a defendant. Upon the conclusion of trials, the committee is bound to publish its findings and directions as provided by the Legal Practitioners Act among others. The direction or decision could be either of the following;
- Ordering the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court to strike out the name of the affected legal practitioner where he is found guilty as charged.
- Suspending the legal practitioner from practice by ordering him not to engage in practice as a legal practitioner for such period as may be specified in the direction.
- Admonishing the legal practitioner over his conducts as a warning
- Ordering the legal practitioner to refund any money in his possession where necessary
- Striking and dismissal of the charge against the legal practitioner where the complaint was found to be frivolous and unmeritorious.
Are there options available to a legal practitioner who has been found wanting by the committee?
Where a legal practitioner is found wanting, he is left with two options.
- Accept his fate and move on with his life depending on what the direction says.
- Lodge an appeal directly to the Supreme court of Nigeria to review and possibly upturn the decision of the committee.
When a court of law convicts a defendant and sentence him accordingly, the constitutional element of being innocent is displaced. It doesn’t matter if the defendant has lodged an appeal at the appellate court. What matters is that he has been found guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction. Until his appeal is heard and determined, he is not competent to wear the garment of innocency. Even on appeal, the judgment of the court still carries the force of law and can be executed unless there is an application for stay of execution of the said judgment or that the said judgment was for the conviction on murder which an appeal operates as an automatic stay of execution. Is the above principle of Law applicable to the directions or decisions of the legal practitioner’s disciplinary committee?
The legal practitioner’s disciplinary committee is not a court of records as specifically listed in section 6 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria. The committee is more or less an administrative body performing a quasi-judicial function. It directions does not come into effect the moment it is delivered like that of the regular courts.
The legal Practitioners Act provide in clear terms when the direction of the committee will come into effect. According to the Act in Section 11(8) of the Legal Practitioners Act, the directions of the committee can only be activated when;
- The convict hereinafter referred to as the lawyer has failed to exercise his right of appeal within the time frame allowed and same got expired
- Where the convict appealed but withdrew his appeal and it is struck out or the appeal is stuck out for want of diligent prosecution, upon the striking out.
- Where the convict upon the hearing of the appeal, it is dismissed
Until any of the above is exercised, the directions of the legal practitioner’s Disciplinary committee is kept in abeyance. In other words, it will continue to sleep and the legal practitioner will still be regarded as an innocent Angel in the temple of justice just like every other angel. If he appeals, until the appeal is heard and determined, he is still a legal practitioner and his name will remain in the roll of legal practitioners kept by the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
Recently, news had it that the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee found one Mr Akaolisa a legal practitioner who also doubled as an attorney general of Imo state of conduct against the ethics of the legal profession and subsequently ordered that he be suspended from practicing for about five years. According to the news, he the affected legal practitioner had already lodged an appeal following the direction of the committee. While the appeal is still pending, some members of the people democratic party PDP of Imo state according to the news are of the firm view that Mr Akaolisa the present Attorney General of Imo State is no longer a legal practitioner and cannot be competent to hold the office of the attorney general and commissioner for justice in Imo state as he is no longer a lawyer following the conviction by the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC)
While I state in explicitly and in clear terms, that I am not holding the brief of Mr Akaolisa of Imo State, I must submit that the submissions of the PDP members of Imo state with regards the status of Mr Akaolisa being a lawyer is clearly misconceived. That ideology or whatever it is, was birthed upon a wrong and fallacious interpretation of the law by whoever engineered it. It shows lack of proper legal understanding and capable of throwing the state into more crisis. Until the directions of the LPDC comes into effect, it is not in effect and nothing more.
God help Nigeria.
Stanley Maduabuchi Ofoegbu Esq
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