SUPREME COURT BERATES A LAWYER WHO TRIED SOME LEGAL ACROBATICS BUT COLLAPSED

Aliyu v. State [2021] 17 NWLR (Pt. 1805) 197.

One Nura Aliyu (the Appellant) was arraigned in Court for stabbing one Jamilu Yahaya with a knife on the head and stomach. The man died.

The Appellant confessed to the crime. His confessional statements were admitted in evidence without objections.

When the statement was read to the Appellant in open Court, the Appellant retorted, by way of correction, that he actually used his shovel and not a knife on the victim. A medical report also admitted in evidence explained that a sharp object must have been used to inflict the injury on the deceased victim.

The Appellant was convicted and sentenced. His appeal to the Court of Appeal failed. At the Supreme Court, his Counsel tried some legal acrobatic display in the name of advocacy. The Counsel argued, to the astonishment of the Supreme Court, that the Appellant’s statement that he used a shovel instead of a knife to strike the victim amounted to a retraction of the confessional statement and that the trial Court and the Court of Appeal were in error in convicting the Appellant based on the confessional statement.

Eko, JSC was livid. His Lordship, at page 215, criticised the Appellant’s Counsel for attempting to confuse issues. Hear him:

The lingua franca of the two courts below is English Language. Page 32 of the records is the proceeding of the trial Court written in simple laconic English that would not take a final year pupil of a primary school preparing for his Common Entrance to comprehend. Here is a lawyer, before us at the Supreme Court appearing not to understand very simple English Language. And it is not to his credit to insist that he has come before us merely to confuse issues and thus pander to the beer parlour gossip or glib that the lawyer is he who turns black into white and vice versa. This common man’s impression of the lawyer, though false, should of course be scandalous of us all lawyers!! The Appellant’s lawyer is, like every lawyer, an officer of the Court enjoined not to do any act or conduct himself in any manner that will adversely affect the administration of justice. A deliberately mischievous distortion of facts, no doubt, is a conduct unbecoming which is not only capable of adversely affecting the administration of justice, but does actually affect the administration of justice. Every lawyer appearing in his professional capacity before a court shall deal with the court mostly candidly and fairly. Rules 30 and 32 of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners, 2007 should, and indeed, offer very basic precept to every lawyer called to the Nigerian Bar and enrolled in the Supreme Court after Law School. It is not palatable to call an officer of this Court a liar, as I am tempted to call the Appellant’s Counsel.

It is well.

The argument of the Appellant’s Counsel boggles the mind, really. The Appellant confessed to the crime. His only correction was that he used a shovel and not a knife on the victim. This means that either way, whether with shovel or knife, he stabbed the deceased victim with a sharp object, causing his death. There is no way this corrective intervention would amount to a retraction of the confessional statement. According to the Court, “retraction” means “to say that something you said earlier is not true or correct or that you did not mean it.” In effect, the Appellant’s Counsel was trying to convince the Court that the correction supplied by the Appellant meant his entire confessional statement was not true or correct. 

The spirit of win-a-case-at-all-cost may be to blame. According to Jauro, JSC (at page 230), “Being desperate to win a case at all cost is a preposterous act that should not be exhibited by a Counsel in the temple of justice.”

The Appellant’s Counsel got what he bargained for on 23 April 2021 (when the Judgment was delivered by the Supreme Court), a day he will live to remember. 

 



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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