MATTERS OF THE BAR 7 - THE BENCH AND THE BAR- By S.O.K Shillings, Esq. (The Pen Master)


The lawyers are the Bar and the judges the Bench. There is an amphibious group, the Magistrates. They are not 'Judicial Officers' hence they are entitled to come back to the Bar when retired or even sacked or by own volition. Why?... They even have a trade association, the Magistrates Association of Nigeria.

The 'Bench' does not include judex of inferior courts. But they are courts!

The lawyers are learned friends while justices, judges and Magistrates are 'learned brothers'. The opportunity has never come to assess what judges and justices of the different appeal cadres are to themselves; may be still 'learned brothers' or 'learned uncles' and 'nephews' or 'fathers' and 'sons'.

The Bar and the Bench are symbiotic partners in the development of the justice system. The judges and justices are the masters of the Temple while the lawyers are the officers. The Bench leads the Bar.

The relationship should be one of mutual respect. The Bar has an uncompromisable responsibility to defend the Bench and thus the temple. The judges do a lot to instil temple discipline and are equipped with the law of contempt. But sometimes, some individual judges tend to establish uppishness by treating lawyers with contempt and castigating them in the presence of their clients and the public without compunction and at the slightest opportunity.

The neglect by some judges to heed the suggestion to inform lawyers when court will not sit is a furtherance of the contempt.

The Rules of court are to be made to make procedures easier and faster. It is the duty of the hierarchy of the Bench to make the Rules. But they snub the Bar in doing so.

The new legal year celebration has always been the prerogative of the Bench. The Bar is invited to religious worships and march past ceremonies where the respective Chief Judges make speeches and it denotes the year of the Bench and not the Bar that is not involved in its planning and execution.

In September, 2013, NBA Ikorodu organised a one-day New Legal Year programme where lawyers, judges, magistrates, police officers, clergymen and members of the public were in attendance.

The Bar is entitled to make recommendations on the appointment of judges. Over time, the Bar has only become a rubberstamp. The lawyers in the NJC have limited responsibilities as they are not involved in disciplinary matters. With the level of lobbying and class conspiracy in the selection process, a modern day judge is compromised before his appointment.

A dangerous area of collaboration is in the actions that undermine the justice system. Recent events have established unholy gratuitous relationships between some senior members of the Bar and the Bench which is not covered by the RPC.

There are corrupt judges and lawyers know them. Unless a well guided monitoring machinery is put in place in the form of judiciary watch under the auspices of the NBA, the festering business of justice sale will kill the system.

The ubiquity of forum shopping and scandalous politically motivated court orders especially as witnessed in the Oshiomole matter are ominous signs of the fall in standards and lowest ebb of discipline in the justice system and a loud beckon to anarchy.

Because of the peculiar nature of their calling, judges are reserved and sometimes defenseless in issues involving other arms of government and even lawyers. Here, it is the duty of lawyers and the Bar to step in. Cross River is a case in point and the reaction of the Bar is commendable.

It is rule of law that duties accompany rights. Our right to condemn attacks on judges in the middle of the night demands a corollary duty to cleanse the system internally audaciously. Our respect for judges must not result in cowardice and abetting. I shall quote the conclusion of my letter to the NJC dated March 22, 2016 thus: 'My Lord and Distinguished members of Council, the justice system is failing and the public is worried. It is the strongest index of a failed nation. The factors of these failings are down to our weaknesses as professionals and especially leaders of the Bar and the Bench. If leaders of the Bar are happy to make billions from a weak judicial system and the Bench fails to summon the courage to purge itself, there will always be justice, but not necessarily our ways. Our system requires an overhaul. It demands homegrown philosophy, new yardsticks of discipline and new rules of engagement.'

Overall, the Bench and the Bar need constant interfaces to smoothen the relationship and work hand-in-hand to protect the justice sector. There was a Public Complaint and Training Committee in the Lagos Judiciary. There is need to revive and spread it to other jurisdictions.

I have no apology to affirm my time-honoured belief that the bubbles of the Nigerian system as presently constituted has bursted and requires an overhaul, but God forbid that the justice system collapses with it or constitutes 'the last straw' to break its tortured back.

It is our choice!

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