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Legal aid is a fundamental right – Ayorinde, SAN

Towards discharging its mandate of providing succour to indigent Nigerians through the provision of free legal services, the LACN held a one-day conference on Thursday,…

Towards discharging its mandate of providing succour to indigent Nigerians through the provision of free legal services, the LACN held a one-day conference on Thursday, September 19, 2013, at City Hall, Lagos Island.
The conference entitled: “Access To Justice: Advancing the Frontiers of Pro Bono,” was the second in a series of events organized annually by the present governing board and management of the LACN to  sensitize government and non-governmental agencies, the stakeholders  as well as the public on the objectives of the council.
The conference was attended by major stakeholders and key players in the justice delivery system, including members of the National Assembly, Bar and Bench, Nigerian Prisons Service, the media, National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons, NAPTIP, and representations from the governor of Lagos State, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice and the Chief Judge of the state.
Messages were delivered by the Governor of Lagos State, Raji Fashola, SAN, represented by the state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Ade Ipaye; Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator Umaru Dahiru; Office of the Public Defender, Lagos State, and NAPTIP. The Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN, sent his address while the Chief Judge of Lagos State, Justice (Mrs.) A.A. Phillips sent in an address as chairman of the opening session delivered by the Administrative Judge, Justice O. O. Atilade.
Chief Bolaji Ayorinde, SAN, Chairman, Governing Board of LACN in his speech said that lawyers have often provided pro bono but added that the LACN has set out to regulate it within the Legal Aid Council Act by formulating rules and regulations and providing peer review mechanism to support it (pro bono).
 “If the constitution guarantees rights  but the poor cannot get the rights, we are saying that the rights are not for him because he does not have the means to get counsel to defend the rights,” Ayorinde said.
Participants observed that access to justice is not a charity but a fundamental right while human rights must be protected and promoted and the rule of law adhered to by all and sundry.
 Access to justice, they said, should be available to every man, woman and child in equal measure as it is a fundamental right and a principle of every legal system.
They said that the relevant agencies and organizations should ensure adherence to the provisions of the Legal Aid Act 2011 that provides that: “A legal practitioner who applies to be appointed to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) shall be required to show evidence of diligent conduct of not less than three pro bono cases in the legal year immediately preceding his application.”
The LACN, they also said, should always be contacted by the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee, LPPC, to confirm the “Pro bono cases” submitted by the applicant who should have notified the council of the existence of the cases for monitoring.
For the young lawyers, pro bono cases can be a career enhancing step.
At the end of deliberations, participants agreed that the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice and all other relevant authorities and organizations should expedite action and domicile the responsibility of prison decongestion in the Legal Aid Council in compliance with the July 2012 Resolution of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Specifically, the conference noted that there were briefs of prison decongestion given to lawyers in Abuja or Kano while the cases were pending in Lagos, hence most of these cases were not concluded.
It was also agreed that the Federal Government and all the relevant agencies should adequately fund the LACN to enable it discharge its duties effectively and efficiently.
Participants said that the attorneys general of the federation and of the states and the judiciary should collaborate with the Legal Aid Council in the administration of criminal justice and jail deliveries while the council should be more prominent in Alternative Dispute Resolution and carry out publicity, awareness and sensitization campaigns on its activities.
They further said that government policies on poverty alleviation and eradication, provision of basic amenities and affordable essential services to the people, establishing and supporting micro-finance schemes, empowering women and providing legal protection to the weak and the poor should be prioritized for a better egalitarian society.

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