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Professional ethics and matters subjudice: The limits of public commentary – Part 2

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Criticisms of judgments and judges

Tangentially and inextricably intertwined with the issue of inappropriate commentary is the growing attitude of lawyers criticising judgment and judges after judgments has been delivered. Though it is acceptable to scrutinise and analyse judgments without necessarily offending the rules of professional ethics, yet this must be done within the bounds of decency and decorum. In civilised climes, analysis of judgments are done in learned journals, not on pages of newspapers.

Secondly, the language, tone and mode of analysis must be courteous and respectful. In recent times, we have seen instances where senior lawyers impugn the integrity and scandalise judges just because they disagree with a particular court judgment. This must be condemmed by NBA.

Lawyers are trained to appreciate the significance of accepting the judgments of court, appeal if appealable and respect the decision of the highest court of the land. To resort to name calling and profiling of judges because of perceived unfavourable judgment is not a tribute to our judicial process. Because of the disparaging attack of senior lawyers on judgement and judges, non-lawyers have joined the bandwagon of inappropriate criticism of judges. Recently, President Obasanjo launched a stinging attack on justice Mohammed Baba Idris of the Federal High Court, after the judge ruled that details of spending of recovered stolen public funds under Obasanjo’s government between May 1999 and May 2007 should be widely published including on a dedicated website. Justice Idris judgment, which followed a freedom of information suit brought by an anti-corruption NGO, Socio- Economic Right and Accountability Project (SERAP), also called for publication of records of spending of recovered funds under the governments of President Umaru Musa Yar-Adua and President Goodluck Jonathan.

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Reacting to the judgement, Obasanjo reportedly made some despicable remarks about the judiciary and particularly, Justice Idris. This is totally unacceptable and the bar must speak up against this tirade against the judiciary

The body of senior Advocates of Nigeria must start cleansing of the Augean stable from within. Members of this body are the chief culprits of inappropriate public commentary. Unless this body passes a resolution to desist from this despicably conduct, the juniors will assume that it is an acceptable conduct.
But more significantly, the Bench should also rise to the occasion and stamp its authority and imprimateur in ensuring that inappropriate public comments by lawyers and non- lawyers are subjected to judicial scrutiny and punished accordingly.

Once more, I thank the organizers for this opportunity to lead conversation on this burning issue confronting the legal profession. I hope that having stimulated our thoughts, we can create another enabling environment to fully interrogate the issues holistically .

Concluded

Professor Azinge, former director general of the Nigeria Institute of Advance Legal Studies (NIALS), presented this paper at the body of senior advocate’s dinner on July 13, 2016.


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