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Lawyers are liars!” This represents the
view of the larger population of society about lawyers. A view drawn from the conclusion
that a lawyer’s duty is to misrepresent facts to suit his client for whom he
intends to win at all costs. The position of a defence counsel in criminal
proceeding is even the more precarious and is sometimes even seen as
condemnable. Many wonder why an Accused person caught in the act of committing
a crime should spend years on trial with the aim of “proving” that he
committed the crime he was caught committing. Clearly, to these people, it
takes a man without conscience or a sense of morality to be a lawyer to a “guilty
man”. Despite these widely held views, a close inspection of a lawyer’s duty
and calling vis-à-vis the rules regulating his professional conduct, makes it
apparent that such views are misplaced and very far from serving the true
object of justice.

As a preliminary question, one may ask; under law, who
is a guilty man? This question is succinctly answered by our most essential
body of law: our constitution. Section
36 (5) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended)

Every person charged with a criminal offence is presumed innocent until proven
to be guilty! In other words, under law, no man is guilty until he is proven to
be guilty! This is the first rule upon which a legal practitioner is called to
represent an Accused most would regard as guilty. A legal practitioner never
represents a guilty man! He only represents an innocent man who may or may not
be proven guilty! Whether a person was caught in the act may only lend credence
to the ease with which his guilt will be proven, it does not in itself
conclusively establish guilt. If this doesn’t make sense, then does it make
sense that four young boys were gruesomely murdered by an angry mob who
believed beyond doubt that they were caught in the act of crime, only to later
find out they were innocent? Indeed, it only makes sense for this presumption
of innocence to continue to free several guilty men than for the application of
the opposite argument to lead to the condemnation of an innocent man.

Therefore, there is no guilty man;
only a man whom the law is trying to establish his guilt. In the process of
proving his guilt it would be greatly unfair that Prosecution knows the law,
the Judge knows the law, but the person to whom it is sought to be applied does
not! It would be too much injustice to proceed from a temple of justice. To
this end, the innocent man whose guilt the law seeks to establish, becomes
entitled to get a person who also knows the law. A lawyer!

However, what if the lawyer
personally knows the Accused person is guilty? He is caught in between his job
and his sense of morality. At this stage the conflict resolution for a properly
trained lawyer is simple: He must be a lawyer! Not a lawyer that lies but a
lawyer that is professional in conduct and guided by the Rules of his
profession! Now let us look at what the Rules tell a lawyer to do in such
situation.

The Rules of
Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007
states under Rules 24. (1):

“It is the duty of a lawyer to accept
any briefs in the Court in which he professes to practice provided the proper
professional fee is offered unless there are special circumstances which
justify his refusal.”

In interpreting this provision of the
Rules, the opinion of Obi Okoye, a learned author on the subject of
Professional Ethics and whose text is recommended material at the Nigerian Law School,
is incisive and he says:

” a legal practitioner is
obliged to accept the brief from the client….(he) is not only bound to accept
the brief, he should put his best in discharging his responsibilities towards
the cause. The rationale behind this rule is that legal practitioners should
not pick and choose briefs they should handle in court. As officers of the
court, they are not at liberty to select the cases to appear in since the
primary duty of a legal practitioner appearing in a case in court is to assist
the court in arriving at a just decision.

The fact that a
case is unpopular or that a client has a very bad criminal record or public
record or that the legal practitioner believes that the accused person is
guilty, may not justify his refusal to accept the client’s case.
        (This) …cab rank rule is mostly
applied in criminal cases to prevent accused persons from being denied legal
representation by lawyers owing to their bad record… “

It
is highly unprofessional therefore for a legal practitioner to reject a
client’s case, and more particularly in a criminal trial, just because he
believes the client is guilty. A lawyer’s calling is to render service to all.
As a Medical Doctor should treat a patient before him irrespective of whether
he caused his sickness or is a robber, a lawyer must render legal service to
all before him and put his personal sentiments away when he acts professionally.
 

While
a legal practitioner is not to reject the brief of a “guilty man” on the
grounds that he knows he is guilty, this should not be mistaken to mean that he
has been placed with the burden of perverting the cause of justice. A legal
practitioner for an Accused ensures a fair trial and in doing so has a duty to
the court; the temple of justice before whom he appears as minister. He should
only do what is honourably accepted in professional regards.

The
above submissions were capture by the Supreme Court in UDOFIA V. THE STATE (1988) LPELR-3305(SC) where the court Per Oputa, J.S.C held that:

“Every person accused of crime has a
right to a fair trial, including persons whose conduct, reputation, or alleged
violations may be the subject of public unpopularity or clamour. This places a
duty of service on the legal profession and, where particular employment is
declined the refusal of the brief or to undertake a defence may not be
justified merely on account of belief in the guilt of the accused, or
repugnance towards him or to the crime or offence charged… The following appear
in bold relief: – 1. Every person accused of crime has a right to a fair trial.
2. Persons whose crimes are so heinous that they constitute a shock to the
accepted norms of behaviour are also entitled to a fair trial. 3. A legal
practitioner should not refuse to defend such people. 4. When a legal
practitioner does accept such brief, and in fact any brief, he should urge any
and everything that can be honourably urged in favour of the accused. 5. He
should collect the facts, weigh them and put them across to the Court courageously
and fearlessly. This is the advocate’s noble duty to render efficient, honest
and conscientious service; to put across his own side of the case with all the
force at his command, so that the trial Judge would be able to consider both
sides and decide where the justice of the case lies. 6. It is the paramount
duty of a defence counsel to defend the accused – which means to ensure that an
accused person is never left unrepresented at any stage of the trial. If
counsel for the defence has obviously and scandalously not discharged his duty
to the accused he is defending, I do not know how one can call the trial
fair.”

The
above quote of the apex court on the issue, puts this discussion in proper
perspective and answers the subject of this write-up beyond peradventure.
However, to further consolidate the point (and I do urge you follow this point
through) , I further refer to the quote of One of the greatest proponents of
legal ethics and advocacy, Lord Denning
MR
in the case of Rondel v. Worsley
(1967) I QB 443
which was cited with approval by the Court of Appeal in Free Ent (Nig) Ltd v G.T.O.S.A (1998) 1
NWLR (Pt. 532) Pg 1 @ 21-2 Paras. E – C, per Per Onalaja JCA
thus:

By the ethics of this profession, the
credo of which was clearly stated in Rondel v. Worsley (1967) I QB 443 wherein
LORD DENNING MR, the greatest MASTER of THE ROLLS OF ENGLAND in this century
observed as follows: – “As an advocate, he is a Minister of Justice
equally with the Judge. He has a monopoly of audience in the higher courts. No
one save he can address the JUDGE, unless it be a litigant in person. This
carries with it a corresponding responsibility. He must accept that brief and
do all he honourably can on behalf of his client. I say “all he honourably
can” because his duty is not only to his client. He has a duty to the
court which is paramount. It is a mistake to suppose that he is the mouth piece
of his client to say what he wants or his tool to do what he directs. He is
none of these things. He owes allegiance to a higher cause. It is the cause of
truth and justice. He must not consciously mis-state the facts. He must not
knowingly conceal the truth. He must not unjustly make a charge of fraud, that
is, without evidence to support it. He must produce all the relevant
authorities even those that are against him. He must see that his client
discloses, if ordered, the relevant documents, even those that are fatal to his
case. He must disregard the most specific instructions of his client if they
conflict with his duty to the court. The code which requires a barrister to do
all this is not a code of law. It is a code of honour. If he breaks it, he is
offending against the rules of profession and is subject to its discipline. But
he cannot be sued in a court of law. Such being his duty to the court the
barrister must be able to do it fearlessly. He has time and time again to
choose between his duty to his client and his duty to the court. This is a
conflict often difficult to resolve and he should not be under pressure to
decide wrongly if a barrister is to be able to do his duty fearlessly and
independently, he must not be subject to the threat of an action for negligence.”

The above decision has been followed
and adopted in T. Oseni v. Brossettee Nig. Ltd. (1981) Jan/March CCRCJ 310-320, The
Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nig, Ltd v. Chief George Uzoaru & 3
Ors (For themselves and as representing the UMUNNAKA UKWU Village of OGUTA)
(1994) 9 NWLR (Pt. 366) page 51, OPUTA,J.S.C.’s BOOK OUR TEMPLE OF JUSTICE.        
                  

These past months, I have noted with
concern that some lawyers have been intimidated by the media, and even booed at
public fora for defending some persons in the “corrupt political class”. Such
conduct by the members of the public is sheer ignorance and a betrayal of
proper understanding of the calling of a lawyer’s profession. A lawyer as a
professional does not and should not act on the sentiments of the public in the
execution of his duties but should apply the law and ensure its application is
proper towards his client in every case he conducts while upholding his most
paramount duty to the cause of justice. A lawyer is not a liar, He only ensures
the other party properly elicits the truth!

IN
CONCLUSION

While a lawyer can professionally, and is in
fact encouraged to, represent a guilty man, He need not be a liar covering up or
misrepresenting facts to do so. Representing a guilty man is not unprofessional
but misrepresenting facts to the court is. Therefore, as response to the “lawyers
are liars” rhetoric, I adopt the position of Honorable Justice Belgore JCA (As he then was) in P.I.P.C.S. Ltd v. Vlachos (2008) 4 NWLR
(Pt. 1076) 1 at P. 17,
when he said

“Counsel must be conscientious in the
performance of their duties. They owe it a duty to assist the court to arrive
at a just decision and they must not set out to confuse the court in order to
satisfy their clients for a paltry sum. Unless lawyers perform their duties by
the dictate of their calling and conscience, the public (layman’s) perception
of lawyers as liars will never change.
I must state, and with all emphasis, that lawyers are not liars, but honourable
gentlemen who are trained to assist litigants and the court. Their first duty
is to the court as ministers in the temple of justice.”

OLIVER
OMOREDIA ESQ.

ASSOCIATE

OBIAGWU
& OBIAGWU LLP

08100193573,
oliveromoredia@yahoo.com