Darlington Eze v. Federal Republic of Nigeria  15 NWLR (Pt. 1589) 433 at 477, paras. F-G, per I. T. Muhammad, JSC:
“…The settled practice is that a counsel whose fees have not been settled can lawfully refuse service of a process on him, and in that case, the litigant must personally be served with the process in question before a decision is taken against him, failing which would amount to a breach of the right of fair hearing…”
The Supreme Court has by the above position made it clear that solicitor’s professional fees should ordinarily be taken seriously to avoid needless risks. For instance, where a counsel refuses to accept a process served on him for failure of his client to perfect his brief and the process is accordingly served on the litigant himself and proof of the said service is supplied, the court can validly proceed with the case and will not wait for the litigant to brief another counsel. Thus, it is a huge risk for a litigant to treat his solicitor’s fees as a trivial matter.
More so, aside the fact that refusal to accept a process by a counsel whose fees have not been paid has been declared lawful, it is important to equally note that such a counsel can take other lawful steps such as refusal to even attend further proceedings, all to the detriment of the ungrateful client who jokes with his solicitor’s fees.
Having said that, it is important to note that parties to a suit and their respective counsel should be properly guided by the above stated position and therefore, should not always be in a hurry. Hence, where and when necessary, the litigant should be contacted in abundance of caution. This is without prejudice to the fact that it has been held that a litigant has a duty to monitor his case and that each party to a pending suit must be vigilant.
His Lordship also restated further principles which are worthy of being noted: “If a party changes his counsel but service of a court process is nevertheless effected on his former counsel, the consequent proceedings based on that process are null and void for breach of the fair hearing rule, the fact that no formal notice of change of counsel has been filed notwithstanding. See F.B.N. Plc v. TSA Industries Ltd. (2010) All FWLR (Pt. 537) 633; (2010) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1216) 247. However, if counsel is aware of a date of adjournment but takes ill before or on that date, he should either write a letter to the court or ask another counsel in his chambers, (where he has some) to attend court, failing which he shall not be heard to complain in breach of fair hearing if a decision is taken in his absence. See Governor of Zamfara State v. Gyalange (2013) 8 NWLR (Pt. 1357) 462 at 479.”
See pages 477-478 of the report.