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Lawyers must respect rules of professional conduct – Okutepa

What is your take on the office of the chief prosecutor of the NBA and what does it imply? We have the chief prosecutor for…

What is your take on the office of the chief prosecutor of the NBA and what does it imply?
We have the chief prosecutor for the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in the person of my humble self. The president of the NBA in consultation with the NEC appointed about 22 of us to prosecute for the bar before the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary  Committee (LPDC) of the Body of Benchers (BoB).  And the LPDC is a committee set up and established by law to exercise disciplinary proceeding over legal practitioners whose conduct fall short of the accepted conduct in the legal profession, whose conduct is less than honest, whose conduct is not in tune with the rules of professional conduct of the legal profession pursuant to the Legal Practitioners Act (LPA) as amended by the Degree No. 21 of 1994.  And mark you that the General Council of the Bar has set out the rules of professional conduct that contain rules 1 to 55 that set out what a lawyer should do, the relationship of lawyer, vis-à-vis the relationship of the lawyer with court, the relationship of lawyers with client, the do’s and don’ts.

Where a lawyer is found wanting what can be done?

When any lawyer is found wanting or act in breach of that rule then the general public can make complaint to either the NBA president, the chairmen of NBA branches nationwide, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, the President of the Court of Appeal, the Chief Judges of all the states in the federation including that of the FCT, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, and the attorneys general of the 36 states and the Attorney General of the Federation.
You can do your petition to any of these bodies against conduct of lawyers that you believe is not in tune with the rules of professional conduct that will be investigated. If it is investigated and the prima facie case of professional misconduct is established against that lawyer at that investigation stage, then the NBA through its General Secretary is expected to file before the LPDC, a complain together with the documents for the purpose of prosecuting the lawyer before the LPDC.
 So it is this that we go there to do to, prosecute on behalf of NBA, lawyers who engage in conducts that are either infamous or misconduct in professional respect and so on and so forth and I have the privilege  of being appointed by two NBA presidents to serve. First I was appointed by President Okey Wali SAN in 2012, then when President Augustine Alegeh SAN came into power he also appointed me and I have the privilege as the chief prosecutor of the bar.

There are lawyers in paid employment and there are practicing lawyers, is it only the practicing lawyers that the prosecuting team can proceed against?
No, the LPDC exercises disciplinary proceeding on all lawyers and let me say that lawyers include judges who sit on the bench and people get confused when a judge sitting on the bench misconducts himself, in his judicial capacity the National Judicial Council (NJC) deals with that situation. The NJC will discipline a judge, and makes recommendation to the president or to the governor as the case maybe for the purpose of removing or suspending the judge from sitting. But when a judge conducts himself in an infamous manner, the only body that has jurisdiction to remove the name, to order the name of the judge to be removed from the roll as a legal practitioner in Nigeria is the LPDC. The  NJC can only suspend you, can only discipline you, can only recommend that you be removed from office but it cannot order the removal of your name from the roll. 
That point must be made clear, LPDC has jurisdiction over all lawyers, both with salary and those in private practice. If they act in an infamous manner, LPDC has jurisdiction provided that the conduct being investigated was the conduct that was done in the course of their professional duty.
Now in Sokoto NEC, I recall that the NEC meeting approved that when a lawyer acted inconsistent with his status as a lawyer, whether he is acting in professional respect or professional manner, he is subject to disciplinary procedure before LPDC. Failure to pay practicing fees is professional misconduct, engaging in conduct unbecoming, like touting is professional misconduct, engaging yourself in advertisement that you are the best lawyer and arguing your matter on the pages of newspapers or TV is professional misconduct. That is why you see that lawyers are not willing and ready to argue our matters before the press or using newspapers and TV as an avenue to attack a judge; or do anything that could obstruct the course of justice because Rule 1 of the Rules of Professional Conduct says that  it is the duty of every lawyer to promote the rule of law and due process.  So when a lawyer acts inconsistent with that rule he could be brought before the LPDC.

What advice do you have for erring lawyers?
If you hope to succeed in the legal profession and aspire to be a leader, then you must have and respect the rules of professional conduct just as you respect the word of God in the Bible as a Christian or the word of God in the Qur’an if you are a Muslim. Because whatever you do in secret, if you take bribe to go and bribe a judge, the same client will advertise you tomorrow as a lawyer who specializes in collecting money to bribe a judge.

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