SERAP Calls For Tougher Sanctions Against Corrupt Nigerian Lawyers

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Nigeria’s Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) on Sunday called for tougher sanctions against corrupt Nigerian lawyers, following growing allegations of corruption against some senior lawyers and their alleged complicity or facilitation of judicial corruption.

In a statement dated 14 February 2016 and signed by SERAP executive director Adetokunbo Mumuni, the organisation said, “It’s not only professional misconduct but also a crime for a lawyer to knowingly assist or induce another to break, violate or attempt to violate the rules of professional conduct or commit a corrupt act and other action prejudicial to the administration of justice that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects.”

The statement read in part: “Lawyers are officers in the temple of justice but improperly influencing a public official to achieve results by means that violate lawyers’ rules of professional conduct or knowingly assisting a judge or judicial officer in conduct that violates applicable rules of judicial conduct or other laws is a clear negation of this sacred duty.”

“Yet, corrupt lawyers and judges often get away with their misconduct and crime. This impunity has contributed to the spo­radic and lax prosecution and punishment of officials responsible for large-scale corruption, while, conversely, imposing severe sanctions for petty corruption and criminals, so as to give the impression of justice. This situation violates the underlying legal and moral assumptions that all persons will be treated equally, fairly, and with respect.”

“Any lawyer who acts in such a way as to be directly responsible for the act of corruption or acts as part of a conspiracy to corrupt should face liability as a “principal” offender.” Even where a lawyer is not directly responsible for the act of corruption but facilitates or otherwise provides assistance to a principal offender, he/she should be liable as an accessory or accomplice. This accountability mechanism for lawyers and judges must follow due process of law.”

“The obligation on lawyers not to engage in illegal activities is vital in upholding professional standards and obviously extends to the activities of bribery and corruption, as lawyers must not themselves breach, or facilitate a breach, of the law.”

“For the sake of the legal profession, the cause of justice and effective remedies for victims of large scale corruption such as the arms procurement scandal, appropriate authorities particularly the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) have to speak out strongly against corruption in the legal profession.”

“The NBA has to provide strong leadership including by strongly and publicly speaking out against corruption in the legal profession and the judiciary, promoting tougher sanctions against corrupt lawyers even if those involved are senior members of the bar including SANs, and judges and creating, developing and actively promoting anticorruption initiatives for the legal profession if it is to remain credible, relevant and add value to the ongoing fight against large scale corruption in the country.”

“The NBA in fact has an abiding responsibility to consistently and proactively promote and ensure lawyers’ compliance with anti-corruption and ethics rules, and to encourage lawyers to carry out their professional duties diligently and conscientiously and refrain from doing anything which would expose the legal profession to ridicule.”

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