Legal ethics

Complaint by the Nigerian Bar Association against a lawyer before the LPDC cannot be withdrawn.


NBA v. Henkyaa [2016] 11 (Pt. 1522) 164 at 173-174, paras. G-C, per Daudu, SAN:

“Dealing with the purported withdrawal of the complaint, we reaffirm our position that applying to withdraw a petition at this stage is akin to bolting the stable gates after the horse has escaped. This is because the petition has undergone a process recognised and prescribed by the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee Rules, 2006 in that it has been investigated and a complaint by a professional body drafted therefrom. Thus, the petition is no longer before us but the complaint by the NBA. The NBA knows too well that once a complaint is filed on behalf of the profession it cannot be withdrawn except in very clear exceptional circumstances such as the death of the respondent or the disclosure of new facts that render the complaint academic, irrelevant or unlawful. None of those circumstances are available here and we cannot consider the said purported withdrawal of the petition as extenuating circumstances in this matter.”

Blogger’s Note:

In the above case, the Respondent (a legal practitioner) sealed off a certain premises occupied by Midag Hotels Nig. Ltd without a proper order of court. He did this on behalf of his client, Benue State Government, who had instructed him to take over and manage all her properties in Lagos including the subject property.

In reaction, Midag Hotels caused a petition to be written by its solicitors to the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) challenging the act of the Respondent. The NBA considered the petition and the accompanying documents including photos of the Respondent sealing off the premises and concluded that a prima facie case was disclosed in the petition. Consequently, the NBA filed a Complaint at the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee of the Body of Benchers (LPDC). During the pendency of the Complaint before the LPDC, the petitioner sought to withdraw the petition. However, the LPDC would have none of that. In delivering the Direction of the Committee, Daudu, SAN found that the Respondent was in flagrant breach of the Rules of Professional Conduct, 2007 and that unfortunately, the Complaint cannot be withdrawn. The Respondent was suspended from legal practice for 12 months in consideration of his admission of his wrongful act and plea for leniency.

NB: It appears that if any withdrawal of a petition is intended, perhaps it must be attempted before the NBA files a formal complaint before the LPDC.

The rationale for the above position of the LPDC is not far-fetched. The legal profession is a noble one and the ethical standards are extremely high. In the case of Ativie v. Kabelmetal (Nig.) Ltd. [2008] 10 NWLR (Pt. 1095) 399 at 425, para. G, Onnoghen, JSC (now CJN) held: “The standard of legal practice in this country is very high and counsel are advised to either retain it at that high level or raise it higher, they are definitely not to lower it under any guise.”

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