COURT STOPS A LAWYER FROM USING A COLOURFUL FACE-MASK

On 7 October 2021, a Counsel appeared before the High Court of Lagos State, Ikeja Division. He was neatly dressed and fully robed – with a black/dark suit, white shirt, wig, gown and white bib.

Owing to Covid-19 and the regulation mandating the use of face-mask, Counsel also put on a face-mask – a beautiful and colourful one at that.

His case was called. In confidence, he stood up to announce his appearance on behalf of his client. He started with the usual phrase, “May it please the Court…”

The Judge interrupted him instantly and his voice faded abruptly. Apparently, the Court was not pleased. He needs no one to tell him this. But everyone including the Counsel wondered. Courts are always pleased to receive lawyers’ warm professional greetings. But not this time around.

The presiding Judge, Hon. Justice L. A. F. Oluyemi, had no time to waste. The Judge criticized Counsel for putting on such a colourful face-mask. According her, Counsel ought not to use his “designer face-mask” in Court. He should reserve it for parties or other functions only.

Although surprised, Counsel apologized, not like he had any choice if he must be allowed to proceed. His apology was accepted by the Judge, one of the most dedicated Judges in Ikeja Division.

Putting on face-mask is not one of the attires approved for legal practitioners in Nigeria. The use of it is only in compliance with the regulation helping with the battle against the spread of Coronavirus.

One would ordinarily expect that it should not matter what colour of face-mask counsel chooses to put on while appearing before the court. But Justice Oluyemi seems to have other ideas. It’s not clear whether other courts care about this. But one thing is clear – Justice Oluyemi appears to remind lawyers that the obligation to dress in less-flashy ways when appearing in court is extensive. Lawyers may consider sticking with white or black face-masks or the traditional light blue face-masks (which the Court used to protect itself from any possible contamination).

We’ve seen many organizations using branded face-masks to identify and promote their brands. Lawyers must do the same by using face-masks that promotes the brand of courtroom dress code.

But the issue doesn’t end there. Will it be offending the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners in Nigeria if law firms begin to produce and use branded face-masks?

 

Featured image credit: Etsy



Stephen Azubuike
Author: Stephen Azubuike
Stephen is a lawyer with expertise in Commercial Dispute Resolution and Technology Law practice. He is a Partner at Infusion Lawyers. He has successfully argued cases from the High Courts of various jurisdictions to the Appellate Courts on behalf of financial institutions, other corporate bodies and multinationals. He has worked with a number of startup tech companies. He tweets @siazubuike.

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