AUTHOR: TARKAA, Moses Kator
CO-AUTHOR: Barinor Kue
As a friend of mine said: “The only thing lawyers for Nigeria sabi do na to dey obtain perpetual injunctions from prosecution to corrupt politicians” – the cases of the erstwhile governors of Bayelsa and Rivers State stand as his justification.
However, are lawyers truly liars? This question, I believe, is as old as the legal profession itself, but remains fresh on society’s lips. It is the result of a great misunderstanding. Its root is from the various cases where the public is convinced that particular persons are guilty or liable but the court decides otherwise, sometimes, due to the prowess of their lawyers. To the layman, this is unfair to the innocent party and lack of conscience on the part of legal practitioners.
When I asked some friends if lawyers are liars, or whether it was just a myth, they had this to say:
Elizabeth: Lawyers do not lie. They bend the truth. They avoid the truth. They never let the facts get in the way of a good defence but they do not lie. They get taught how to do this at university. It’s in a subject called Legal Ethics. An oxymoron if ever there was one.
Agnes: Nice one, well, my boyfriend is a lawyer and he’s a great liar as well. So I’m not sure it’s a myth.
Bolade: They are just good at persuading which can be deceiving. But not every lawyer is a liar. That’s just a dumb stereotype. They are just good at their job.
Godwin: They tend to stretch the truth, but so do the crooks they represent.
Samuel: They don’t lie, it’s against the law. They just make the truth looks fake. They are paid to do it. I personally hate defence lawyers. They let murderers, rapists, and all sorts of malefactors back on the street. Why? For money. Do they have any idea how much they are hurting people or they could be hurting someone in the future?
Nater: They usually are not liars per se; they are in a business and their business is to represent their client, good or bad. So they bend the rules, find loopholes, do anything ‘legally’ possible to assert their clients’ claims. It sucks, but if you ever need one, you would want them to do the same.
I wish to make things clear. Every profession has its ethics and rules. The same applies to Law. For instance, in criminal cases, the burden of proof lies on the prosecutor who has to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. In the same vein, the various offences have their defining elements which must be present for there to be a conviction.
Also, there is the issue of technicality. The judicial process is full of various procedural rules which should be adhered to for a suit to be successful.
It is common for people to judge without knowing the particular facts of a matter. If a public official were to be accused of fraud and financial misappropriation, or a bandit accused of stealing in the market – tongues would wag nonstop. The public will condemn and call the suspects all sorts of names and basically crucify them. This could be in spite of the fact that the persons may be in truth, innocent.
Under the Nigerian Administration of Criminal Justice, when a person is arrested for a crime, he must be promptly charged and brought before a court. The Constitution guarantees an accused person, a free and fair trial as provided for in Section 36(1)(4) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
It is noteworthy to know that fairness of a trial is fundamental to the administration of justice, it does not only give integrity to the legal system but it also ensures the confidence of the society in the justice system.
The general idea of Natural Justice is at the foundation of the legal system. Two major principles of Natural Justice are “audi alteram partem” meaning “hear the other party” and “nemo judex in causa sua” which means “no one should be a judge in his own case.”
Again, the constitutional presumption of innocence [Section 36(5)] favours the accused person. The accused is thus presumed innocent until the prosecution proves his guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
The said constitutional provision provides inter alia: “Every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty.”
The Supreme Court of Nigeria held in Ahmed v The State that: “It is a cardinal principle in criminal proceedings that the burden of proving a fact which if proved would lead to the conviction of the accused is on the prosecution who should prove such fact beyond reasonable doubt. In criminal cases, any doubt, as to the guilt of the accused, arising from the contradictions in the prosecution’s evidence of vital issues must be resolved in favour of the accused person.”
Earlier, the Court of Appeal had also held in Ibrahim v The State, that the law vests the responsibility to prove the accused guilt on the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt. It is not part of the system of our law that an accused person should prove his innocence.
On the ground of technicality, what is most prominent is the question of jurisdiction. A cause may be very good but if instituted in a court that lacks jurisdiction to hear it, it will surely fail on that account. Same thing applies to civil matters. For a claim to see the light of day, the necessary rules ought to be observed. A judge cannot go against the rules of court merely on the ground of pity or societal sentiments. The court is a court of law, and not of morality.
These rules are the hallmarks of our noble and honest profession and must be guarded with jealousy. If a man knows he has a good cause, his duty is to scout for a good lawyer or lawyers who can advice him and handle the case efficiently.
On the question of why lawyers go ahead to defend a client even when they know from the client’s revelation that he is guilty, everything boils down to the same thing – ethics and rules. A doctor would not cease to treat a patient on the ground that they caused their own ailment. Neither can he divulge the patient’s secret to the world. Same thing applies to lawyers.
In every case, one party must be wrong and it is not the duty of the lawyer to say who is wrong. Only the court has such powers. Also, the defence counsel is not in the position to prove the guilt of his client. It is the exclusive burden of the prosecutor to do so. Thus, though a lawyer may know his client actually did what he is accused of, he can only wait for the prosecution to prove this to the world. His duty is to his client and he must stand to defend him to the very end. Now, that is what I call Truthfulness, Honesty, and Friendship – to stand by a man where society is against him.