By Sylvester Udemezue
Where a lawyer (or litigant) has good grounds for complaints against a judicial officer, in my opinion, below are the only options available in law and legal ethics, depending on the circumstances:
1️⃣. Counsel can respectfully and politely call the court’s attention to such where it’s a minor default or slip — an example is default in following proper procedure.
I was in Court in Lagos in 2022, when a judge tried to rebuke/punish a man for some perceived misbehaviour in court in respect of the proceedings, (perhaps inadvertently) without first affording the affected person an opportunity of being heard. Mr Femi Falana (SAN), stood up in court and very respectfully and politely drew the court attention of the slip.
The Court was grateful for learned silk’s kindness, and immediately proceeded to do the right thing by allowing the man to give his own side, at the end of which the controversy got peacefully resolved and no punishment was handed to the man, as the judge now understood the real issues.
Please, note that in drawing the attention of the judge to perceived slips, care must be taken to ensure ABSOLUTE POLITENESS and UNDILUTED CANDOUR on the part of Counsel. In this regard, anything that could cause the presiding judge unnecessary embarrassment must be avoided.
2️⃣ Where the judge has displayed clear acts of bias, prejudice, or other form of prejudicial interference with the proceedings or descending into the arena of conflict in a manner that could reasonably be interpreted to constitute the judge a Hippy Harlet (see Sunday Okoduwa v. State), etc, counsel could file an application to have the judge to disqualify himself from continuing to hear the case; or
3️⃣. In more serious cases, it’s an option for counsel to apply to the chief judge (or other head of the court) to have the case file withdrawn from the misbehaving trial judge and then reassigned to another judge; or
4️⃣. Counsel could make that a ground of appeal, after judgment. Exactly this is what happened in Sunday Okoduwa v State (1986) 2 NWLR (pt 76) 333.
5️⃣. In more extreme cases, especially where the alleged misconduct amounts to professional misconduct or a breach of the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers, counsel or his client could file a petition before the NJC for professional discipline.
6️⃣. Counsel may choose to take no steps at all, especially where the alleged misbehaviour on the part of the judge is negligible. Counsel appearing before a judge should know that sometimes, complex on the part of a presiding judge could cause the judge to engage in some petty, irritating conducts, during proceedings, just to express his complex, or to try to annoy the lawyer.
Sometimes, some judges do these unconsciously, without any deliberate intention to obstruct justice or prejudice any party, but merely as a result of complex or other petty and myopic prejudices or thought. Counsel should be mature enough to know when to ignore the shenanigans of a petty presiding judge.
Finally, counsel must know that demeanor varies from judge to judge. Hence, the fact that a particular judge behaved in a particular admirable manner doesn’t mean that another judge must act in a similar manner. Judges are human beings; the rule that requires you to show respect to the presiding judge doesn’t say that the Judges are infallible, perfect or otherwise all-knowing. Hence, counsel should leave minimum room for some differences or variation in the manner judges conduct themselves in court. “Know Your Judge” is a cardinal guiding principle in Courtroom Advocacy. Lawyers appearing in courts as advocates must learn to understand the nuances of judges. Approaches differ from judge to judge.
🅰️.Under NO circumstances should a lawyer walk out on a judge/court or disrespect or otherwise engage in any form of altercation with, or verbal abuse against, or exchange with, the judge! Doing any of those is a serious form of disrespect to a court of law.
🅱️ Generally, regarding LAWYER’S RELATIONS WITH THE COURT, Rule 30 of the RPC provides:
“A lawyer is an officer of the court and accordingly, he shall not do any act or conduct himself in any manner that may obstruct, delay or adversely affect the administration of justice”. Rule 31 provides:
“31.(1) A lawyer shall always treat the court with respect, dignity and honour. (2) Where the lawyer has a proper ground for complaint against a judicial officer, he shall make his complaint to the appropriate authorities”.
Sylvester Udemezue (udems)
Reality Ministry of Justice (RMJ)