The Chairman, the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), has given an insight into practices that could turn a lawyer into an accused person and land him in jail.
Sagay spoke on Tuesday during a one-day workshop on ‘Anti-corruption, ethics of the legal profession and justice sector’.
The event was co-organised by the Nigerian Bar Association and the PCAC.
In his contribution, Sagay described lawyers as “social engineers” whose failure to live up to the expectation of their callings could lead to anarchy, chaos and poverty.
He urged lawyers to be aware of the extent they could legitimately go in defending their clients in order not to end up as a co-accused.
He particularly called on defence lawyers to resist the urge to commit crimes in the process of defending their clients, warning that they could easily end up being prosecuted.
He said, “Defence counsel, my dear colleagues, should avoid ending up as a partner in the crime by sharing guilt and proceeds of that crime.
“A lawyer’s role should not degenerate from that of a legitimate defence counsel to becoming an accomplice after the fact.
“A lawyer who is over-enthusiastic in the defence of his client and crossing the line from being a lawyer to becoming a co-defendant will be prosecuted as such.
“We should avoid any urge of committing fraud, money laundering, perjury and so on in the process of trying to defend our clients.
“We should never forget our status as ministers in the temple of justice. That status prevails over any other duty, even over the duty we owe to our clients.
“I therefore appeal once again that our colleagues should never ever cross over from the Bar because if they do that they may end up in the dock.”
Sagay said lawyers’ obligation to accept briefs from their clients did not include helping a client who was guilty of a crime to escape justice.
He said, “Therefore, the obligation of a lawyers to accept briefs does not extend to the protection of their clients from the consequences of crimes against the society.
“A lawyer who looks at his client that is guilty of a crime should advise that client to plead guilty otherwise he should drop the case; he does not have a choice.
“He should not knowingly, being aware that a client is guilty of an offence, set out to provide the defence of not guilty with the intention of seeing him set free from the consequences of his crime.
“It is therefore unethical and a breach of the rules of the profession to set out to frustrate legal proceedings by exploiting the rules of procedure and regulation. It is unethical to make frivolous applications with the hope of delaying the proceedings in a case.”
The don condemned some lawyers’ practice of accusing judges of bias and urged judges not to succumb to such intimidation if they had acted in good conscience.
He said, “It is also unethical to accuse a judge of bias in order to make him withdraw from a case so that the case will start all afresh before a new judge.
“Our judges should make up their mind on whether they have acted in good conscience.
“If I am not biased, if have not betrayed my calling, if I have nothing to fear from my conscience, why should I refuse to read the judgment that I have written?
“What an upright judge will do, will be to read that judgment and ask the applicant to go up and use whatever bias as a basis for appeal.
“I want to tell our judges to be courageous in their court, act conscientiously and deliver their judgment courageously. Let their only judge be their conscience.
“They have nothing to fear as long as they have acted in accordance with their conscience.
“Anyone returning to the Chief Judge on the grounds that he has been accused of bias is indicating that he himself is biased.”