What is the legal status of statement made by counsel from the Bar?

U.B.A. Plc v. Ujor [2001] 10 NWLR (Pt. 722) 589 at 607, para. A, per Opene, JCA:

“It is settled that a statement by a Counsel from the Bar has the character of an oath and the Court is bound to take this into consideration.”

Notes:

In making the above pronouncement, the Court relied on the old case of Tika Tore Press Ltd. v. Umar (1968) 2 All NLR 107. The statement, ‘My Lord, I am speaking from the Bar’, has become a common statement amongst lawyers who desire that any statement of fact they present to the Court while appearing as counsel should be accepted as true by the Court. Lawyers, being gentlemen of noble calling, indeed deserve to be trusted by the Court as per the veracity of any statement of fact made by them especially when fully robed and appearing as counsel. It is therefore an aberration for a counsel to mislead the court by telling blatant lies.

More importantly, the implication of such statements of counsel from the Bar having the character of an oath is that if it is found to be false, the counsel responsible is therefore guilty of perjury. See A. G. Ekiti State v. Commissioner of Police, Ekiti State (2018) LPELR-44421(CA) on offence of perjury. Thus, it is of compelling importance to remind lawyers of the real character of statements made from the Bar, and to discourage any abuse of privilege of being trusted by the court through the presentation of unverified and untrue facts in order to score cheap points and gain undue advantage for their clients. Lawyers are ministers in the temple of justice and must uphold the dignity and integrity of the profession, bearing in mind always that the primary duty they owe is to the court in order to assist the court to do substantial justice.

It must also be clarified that when the Court held above that “a statement by a Counsel from the Bar has the character of an oath and the Court is bound to take this into consideration”, it does not imply that the courts must always believe and act on same, especially in the face of doubtful circumstances. It only means that the courts must consider it and call for verification if necessary. In fact, in Nigeria today, the courts are learning to take statement of facts made by counsel from the Bar with a pinch of salt. This is sad. Lawyers now struggle to build individual reputation. The umbrella of privilege, which all lawyers ought to enjoy for being counsel, has lost its grip and many are under the scourging heat of distrust and disrespect which is sometimes undeserved like in the case of U.B.A. Plc v. Ujor (supra).

In U.B.A. Plc v. Ujor (supra), the Appellant, as Defendant, had applied for an amendment of its defence in the middle of trial and same was roundly refused by the trial Court. The Appellant appealed against the ruling and also filed a motion for stay of proceedings. When the matter came up subsequently, the Appellant’s Counsel informed the trial Court that there was a pending interlocutory appeal and motion for stay of proceedings filed. The processes were however not available in the Court’s file. The Appellant’s Counsel prayed for a short stand down to enable him sort out the issue at the registry. The Respondent’s Counsel prayed for judgment. The trial Court adjourned the matter to the next day for ruling. In a rather unprecedented fashion, the trial Court delivered judgment against the Appellant the next day which was meant for ruling. This was in utter disregard of the information regarding the pending appeal and motion for stay supplied by the Appellant’s Counsel. Worse still, the Appellant had not closed its case nor presented final address. The trial Court, with respect, appeared to have believed, without sufficient reason, that it was a mere ploy by the Appellant to force an adjournment and thus further frustrate the determination of the case.

The Court of Appeal had no difficulty in setting aside the Judgment after criticizing the trial Court for obvious display of impatience and neglect of procedural rules and constitutional right of fair hearing.

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