A judge must not abuse his powers

A court cannot insist that a particular counsel in a chambers must conduct a case.

Ceekay Traders Ltd. v. General Motors Co. Ltd. [1992] 2 NWLR (Pt. 222) 132 at 163, paras. E-F, Olatawura, JSC:

“With the development in legal practice, legal practitioners frequently enter into partnerships. In each Chambers there are many practitioners. A litigant may brief one of the partners, but the Chambers is responsible for the conduct of the cases once the brief is accepted. It is the practice, depending on the nature of the case, in busy Chambers for three or four counsel to represent a party at the beginning of the trial. One may begin with the examination of witnesses, another take on the cross-examination of witnesses. Sometimes, the leading counsel may simply announce his appearance and then inform the court who will conduct the case. All these are designed to show the internal arrangements of the Chambers. The Judge is not entitled to insist on a particular counsel in the team to conduct the case. Whoever appeared a day before may not necessarily appear the following day. As long as the party is not left without a counsel, the court is not to interfere with the internal arrangement of the Chambers. “

Blogger’s Note:

In the case, the Appellant had severally asked for an adjournment at the trial Court through different counsel (but all from the same Chambers). On a certain date, the Appellant again asked for an adjournment but the application was opposed by the 1st Respondent who urged the Court to dismiss the suit. The trial Court refused the application for adjournment and thereafter dismissed the suit. The Court of Appeal in dismissing the appeal lodged, appeared to have had a problem  with the fact that the applications for adjournment had been tabled by different counsel from the same Chambers, when it observed that one of the counsel from the Chambers “conveniently stayed away” to allow another counsel appear to seek for another adjournment. The Supreme Court found it compelling to make ineffectual that observation and holding especially as same was made a ground of appeal at the Supreme Court. Olatawura, JSC aptly clarified the point when it made the pronouncement quoted above.

More so, the Supreme Court in the above case clearly endorsed the routine practice of many legal practitioners from the same Chambers as it relates to cooperation (which the Court described as change of baton like in a relay race) and thereafter rightly stressed the point that courts have no business interfering with the internal arrangements of law Chambers.

NB: Importantly, the Supreme Court allowed the Appellant’s appeal based on the principle that “where an application by the Plaintiff for an adjournment is refused, he must be given the opportunity to proceed with his case. It is only when he has failed or been unable to do so that the trial Judge can properly dismiss the suit for want of prosecution… Of course an application for adjournment is prima facie evidence that applicant is not ready to proceed with the case. It is clearly not conclusive.” See page 156-157, paras. H-E, per Karibi-Whyte, JSC.

We must here state that the delay tactics by some lawyers through frivolous applications for adjournment must be properly checked, always. The frequent delays and adjournment of cases in our courts are bad for the judicial system and have become a frustrating factor for many litigants and a discouraging issue for aspirants to the Bar and young lawyers too.

NB: Let us use this opportunity to mention that although legal partnerships seem to be the trend as observed by the Court, legal practitioners must be mindful of what the Supreme Court stated in the case of FBN v. Maiwada [2013] 5 NWLR (pt. 1348) 444 at 505, paras. E-F where it was held that a legal practitioner practising on his own account should not hold himself out as a partner in a firm of lawyers using a firm’s name which suggests that he is in a partnership with others. (See Rule 5(4) of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners, 2007).

(Visited 33 times, 1 visits today)