JUDGE ALLEGEDLY DIRECTS POLICE ORDERLY TO WALK OUT COUNSEL WHILE ADDRESSING THE COURT

Litigation lawyers (and Judges alike) especially in busy cities like Lagos usually approach the courtrooms on Mondays feeling refreshed and enthusiastic about the new week.

But for Learned Counsel (name withheld), the experience of Monday, 18 October 2021, in court is one that may hardly be forgotten. He entered the Court feeling refreshed and enthusiastic but left feeling depressed and apathetic.

According to Counsel, he appeared before Honourable Justice (name withheld)* of the Lagos State High Court. Counsel recounts that he had his motion dismissed by the Court. But that was not the problem.

The problem was that while he was addressing the Court in order to bring some vital points to the Judge’s attention, the Judge allegedly ordered him several times to “shut up” and sit down.

Counsel explained that he was able to make the point that he should at least be heard before the Court takes a decision to continue proceedings. But to no avail. 

He also explained that this was not a situation where the Court was talking and Counsel was talking at the same time. Rather, he alleged that it was a case where the Court listened to one side and expressly (orally) declined to listen to the other side. 

Counsel still felt the need to be heard and made further attempts to address the Court.

However, the further attempt to speak was to irritation of the Judge who allegedly directed the Court Registrar to fetch the Police orderly attached to the Court to walk Counsel out of the courtroom.

Shortly after, the Police orderly arrived. Counsel explained that the orderly was respectful as he came towards him and stood behind him, obviously expecting him to gently comply and leave. Counsel left. From the point when the Judge asked Police orderly to walk him out, Counsel alleged that the proceedings continued without him. This means the Counsel and his client were thus, allegedly shut out of the proceedings. 

Issues

It is not clear all the events that must have transpired leading to the alleged directive that Counsel should be walked out of the courtroom. The record of proceedings will be the first port of call. However, that’s not all. We don’t expect to see all the details of the altercation in the record. In Nigeria, it is the Judge who writes the record. Stenographers are not in optimum use in our courts.

However, the law is that a record of proceedings may be challenged where any party or counsel is of the opinion that the record does not bear out all the events relevant to the case. This can be done by an affidavit outlining the perceived missing facts only. Arguments of any kind are not allowed in an affidavit as stipulated under the Evidence Act, 2011.

Importantly, counsel appearing before the courts like in the instant case must learn and accept the need to keep quiet whenever a Judge so directs. Refusing to comply may appear to be contemptuous of the court and the court may move to protect its authority and veil of power.

Bearing this in mind, counsel who find themselves in such situation and who feel the urgent need to address the court, even after being asked to keep quiet, may do so humbly and urge the court to be granted audience. Counsel in this case explained that this was exactly what he did.

Whatever the case, it is also worthy of mention that Judges must exercise restraint in shutting up counsel appearing in court. Naturally, given their calling as advocates, counsel always like to speak.

Just like the courts, counsel is also clothed with authority to represent his clients in court. Any attempt to shut counsel up may ridicule the counsel to the irritation of his clients. Worse still, directing a police orderly to walk out any counsel is the height of it!

There are other ways to deal with the situation. The Court may decide to stand the matter down (for tension to cool) or adjourn it. The court may give counsel 5 minutes or more to speak. The fact that Judges have the overriding power to make decisions is the reason the duty of Judges is to listen more than they speak.

Judges and Counsel are team members as far as administering justice is concerned. Judges are once counsel. The Bar and the Bench are in the same field. There must always be mutual respect and cooperation in order to achieve the ultimate goal.

 

*PS: Withholding the names is to avoid focusing attention on the personalities  involved rather than the important issue at hand. 

 



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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