Lawyers have been charged to be guided by the rules and professional conduct they were called into in carrying out their duties.
Emeka Etiaba, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), gave the charge during the Bar Week of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Uyo Branch, at Multi-Purpose Hall, Judiciary Headquarters, Wellington Bassey Way, Uyo, recently.
Etiaba in a paper entitled Lawyering in Nigeria: Contemporary Threats and their Attendant Consequences, explained that a lawyer is a person who has undergone some form of training or has acquired some specialized skills and is qualified to advise people on the law and represents them in courts and out of courts. He is a member of the legal profession, therefore, a legal practitioner.
He stated that "A legal practitioner in Nigeria is entitled to practise as a barrister and solicitor in accordance with the provisions in Section 24 of the Legal Practitioners Act. In the practice of law, a legal practitioner is guided by rules, principles of engagement and professional ethics. This code of ethics regulates and controls the affairs of the members of the profession. It expresses in the broadest of terms the standards of professional conduct expected of lawyers in their relationship with the public, the legal system and the legal profession.
He stated that the main legislations which set out the code of ethics to regulate the professional conduct of lawyers in Nigeria are the Legal Practitioners Act and the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) 2007 which spell out the three duties of a lawyer.
Etiaba said the duties are to the court, client and his colleague and to the entire society by offering pro bono services. "Of all these duties, a lawyer as an officer of the court owes the court the most duty before considering other interest even at the risk of his client.
"Lawyers play leading roles in the society all over the world. It was their efforts that ended slavery and discrimination in Europe and America. They are to ensure the preservation, promotion, protection and observation of Rule of Law in Nigeria. As an officer of the court, lawyers are to ensure that there is speedy administration of justice no matter whose ox is gored. By so doing, a lawyer is expected to supply legal authorities that will mitigate the case of his client if by so doing justice will be better administered, he said.
He noted that the legal practitioners' responsibilities in the country stand as a shield in defence of rights and to ward off wrongs, pointing out that in representing clients, a lawyer is to be fair and honourable in court and out of court. They must not introduce unprofessional tactics in defending a client, and a lawyer in public prosecution must not seek conviction at all cost; ensure that the confidence of his client is protected.
Furthermore, he said "As masters of process who protect the democratic processes in Nigeria, lawyers need to ensure that democracy is not destroyed by politicians. This, they do by advocacy to the societal problems, for example, the numerous killings in the land, prosecution of public cases and legislation for good governance. The legal practitioners are to serve as the watchdog of the nation, protect the environment and promote rights of the citizens.
Etiaba noted that lawyers in public and private sectors face myriad of threats and sometimes the threats are peculiar while at other times they are general, like the influence of corruption which is a threat to both private and public practitioners.
He highlighted that the attendant consequences of threats to lawyering in Nigeria are lack of cohesion among lawyers as a result of existing hostilities among themselves, disrespect for the law and lawyers, lowering standard of legal practice, inability of lawyers to perform their primary duties for the common good of the society, non-advancement of democratic tenets as lawyers fail to advocate and protect democratic norms and institutions for the advancement of the democracy, delay in the administration of justice, failure to launch a well-articulated war against corruption and disillusionment and brain drain for the young lawyers.
"On the whole, the overall consequences of these threats is failure to enthrone rule of law which ought to ultimately bring about a just and egalitarian society. "A Nigeria of our dream, he concluded.