–Hameed Ajibola Jimoh Esq.
The legal practice is a very delicate practice considering its nature. A lawyer has to deal with the life, property, money (which might worth millions or billions of naira or in other currencies belonging to his clients), the fight for freedom and innocence of his client(s), etc. It is the view shared by this paper that considering the nature of the legal practice, indeed ‘conscience’ is an invaluable attribute of a Nigerian lawyer in his legal practice, else, his clients, the societies, the nation and the legal profession are not safe in his hands.
First and foremost, the word ‘conscience’ is defined by the online Merriam Webster dictionary as follows:
1a : the sense or consciousness of the moral goodness or blameworthiness of one’s own conduct, intentions, or character together with a feeling of obligation to do right or be good;
b: a faculty, power, or principle enjoining good acts guided by conscience;
c: the part of the superego in psychoanalysis that transmits commands and admonitions to the ego;
2: conformity to what one considers to be correct, right, or morally good: conscientiousness
3: sensitive regard for fairness or justice:’.
From the above definitions of the word ‘conscience’, it is my humble submission that whenever the word ‘conscience’ is used, it connotes ‘goodness’ and that the use of the words ‘good conscience’ is repetitive of the word ‘conscience’ since ‘conscience’ connotes ‘good’.
Furthermore, it is my humble submission that ‘conscience’ though innate in humans, has to be improved upon by everyone, including lawyers. Much more so, the Rules of Professional Conducts for Legal Practitioners, 2007-herien after referred to as RPC- has encouraged and mandated Nigerian lawyers on the need for ‘conscience’ especially and for instance, as it provides in Rule 1 of the RPC 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 RPC has provisions for the ethics, roles and duties that a lawyer must observe and or perform in his: practice as a legal practitioner which ranges from Rules: 1-13; the relation with clients, which ranges from: Rules: 14-25; relation with other lawyers, which ranges from: Rules: 26-29; relation with the court, which ranges from Rules: 30-38; improper attraction of business, which ranges from Rules: 39-47; remuneration and fees, which ranges from Rules: 48-54; miscellaneous, which ranges from Rules: 55- 57. I must state that this RPC is subsidiary to the LPA which also contains provisions on ethics to be complied with by a lawyer especially sections: 9, 11 and 20 of the Legal Practitioners’ Act.
Furthermore, section 55 contains provisions on the liability of a lawyer thus ‘55 (1) If a lawyer acts in contravention of any of the rules in these Rules or fails to perform any of the duties imposed by the Rules, he shall be guilty of a professional misconduct and liable to punishment as provided in Legal Practitioners Act. (2) It is the duty of every lawyer to report any breach of any of these rules that comes to his knowledge to the appropriate authorities for necessary disciplinary action. It is important for me to state here that this Rule 55 refers and is applicable to a lawyer in both private and public legal practice (in essence, all lawyers in Nigeria).
The situation of the rise in the lack of conscience in some lawyers might have been encouraged by the low level of report of professional misconducts among lawyers and the high level of nonsensitisation of the public about their right to lodge complaints against any erring or dubious lawyer in Nigeria. The situation is worst at the moment to such extent that even it is becoming difficult to trust ones fellow brother-lawyer and his promises!
Furthermore, it is important for me to say that the status of a lawyer in the society cannot be overemphasized. Lawyers are the reformers of the society. If the society is bad, ask the lawyers. If the society is good, praise and commend the lawyers. The lawyers are presumed generally to know the laws regulating the society and all the laws of the land.
Therefore, lawyers are the: advisors, the counselors, the reformers, the arbitrators, the litigators, the solicitors, the legal agent etc for the societies. In a community where there is at least a lawyer, there ought to be a sense of calmness, peace and unity in that community having regard to the legal and intellectual capacity and influence of the lawyer. Where there is a lawyer in a community, such a community would no more suffer bad roads, lack of adequate water supply, intermittent power supply, etc, as the services that such a lawyer can render ranges from paid and unpaid legal services (including pro bono legal services) for the members of the society.
It gets to an extent that no one would be more qualified to be appointed and or nominated for a higher position in the community except a lawyer, not just because of his ‘big grammar’ but also because of his exposure to the global world, his experiences, comportment, meticulousness, decorum, morality, professionalism, ethics, etc., which qualify him for such a high position and or status in his community. In fact, he is like a saviour to his immediate community at any given time. The roles and status of a lawyer to the nation is also numerous indeed. Most importantly too, a family that has at least a lawyer is seen and reckoned with by other members of the societies.
A lawyer can fight against abuse of powers and violation of human rights and to defend the oppressed and the less privileged whether such a victim and or his or her family members have money to offer for his legal services or not (and even though his legal services are forms of financial support for him too. This is why ‘conscience’ is very important in all that a lawyer does in his legal practice.
Also, lawyers in their various law offices and or chambers must allow ‘conscience’ to continue to guide them.
Females in their various offices (whether in private or public office) must be secure and safe from any sexual harassment! The male lawyers in the firm or law office or public office too must be safe from sexual harassment in the hands of a female superior because male lawyers too could in my humble view, be sexually harassed and be vulnerable at their work places by their female superiors. The works given and or assigned to legal staff (including non-legal staff) must not be a form of wickedness for one reason or the other! Prompt payment of salaries and agreed allowances to staff are also some signs of ‘conscience’!
Also, the National Judicial Council of Nigeria and other Judicial Service Commissions must also always place value over lawyers with ‘conscience’ in appointment as judges rather than a mere academic qualification and qualifications based and or influenced by favouritism. This ‘conscience’ value would aid the overall interest of justice in Nigeria.
Furthermore, the leadership of the Nigerian Bar Association at both the Branches and the National levels must be those with ‘conscience’, else, the legal profession is doomed in their hands! The 2020 National elections are by the corner at the moment. Lawyers must elect those candidates that are not only qualified educationally but also with ‘conscience’ wise!
Campaigns are with due respect, almost filled with lies and a number of impossibilities but the electorate-lawyers have the powers now to elect those among the aspirants that would lead and protect the interests and welfare of the members and not those who have allowed their selfishness and ill-faith to subsume them to come into power, else, the change-mantra is likely not to be attainable!
The Nigerian Bar Association has been accused by some seniors and young lawyers to be sick of leadership with conscience and needs to be cured! This 2020 Bar election is another chance and opportunity for us all as lawyers to elect into office, those leaders that we ever dreamt of with ‘conscience’!
Finally, it is my humble submission that ‘conscience’ is indeed a good quality that must be improved upon by every Nigerian lawyer. Also, clients are encouraged to always look out for those lawyers with ‘conscience’ either as their barristers or solicitors. Furthermore, the NBA 2020 elections is a great opportunity for Nigerian lawyers to utilize their franchise by electing those lawyers with ‘conscience’ as the bar leaders.
The lawyers to be appointed as judges should also be those of ‘conscience’ in order for justice to reign. The overall benefits of building, nurturing and having lawyers with ‘conscience’ cannot be overemphasized!
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