Ethics of the Legal Profession

Eko Akete 1924

By Editor, Adekambi

Indispensible part in the Administration of justice

The legal education in recent years has attracted a lot of attention locally. This fact is evident from the great increase in the learned members of the Bar but yet in spite of this state of affairs how strange is it that a section of the people who are supposed to be intelligent still labours under misconceptions and misconstrued opinion with regard to this honourable profession? How many are yet to be heard saying “Woe unto lawyers,” “Lawyers are liars,” and a thousand and one of such pious statements!

While one can excuse an illiterate, who could not understand the wisdom of the advocate, (who was not present on the spot of an event), standing against him in the court of justice, there is certainly no ground of justification for a man of presumed intelligence.

At the same time there is another section of people who believe, though, in the indispensability of the advocate in proper administration of justice, yet could not see why lawyers which lawyers know to be bad. It is to them dishonest of an advocate to defend a man accused of a crime if the advocate happens to think that his client is guilty. But the advocate’s opinion may be wrong and judgement which is the result of keen contests on both sides may be against him.

We are greatly indebted to the Nigerian Law Journal for the following extracts which we take from its last month’s issue:-

“The Colonial Chaplain (the Rev. H. Lewis) in this short but very instructive address delivered at the November Assize service discussed that vexed question i.e. the ethics of the legal profession.

Opinions have always differed and will always differ on this very important question. Such famous men as Dr. Johnson; Lord Macaulay and Lord Broughaam, to mention a few, have expressed their opinion on the subject. Lord Macaulay asks, whether it be right that not merely believing, but knowing a statement to be true, he (the advocate) should do all that can be done by sophistry, by rhetoric, by solemn asservation by indignant exclamation, by gesture, by play of features, by terrifying one honest witness, by perplexing another to cause a jury to think that statement false. Bentham denied in even stronger language the habitual method of the ‘hireling lawyer’ in cross-examining an honest but adverse witness. On the other hand, Paley recognized among falsehoods that are not lies because they deceived no one, the statement of an advocate asserting the justice or his belief of the justice o his client’s cause. A like view was expressed by Dr. Johnson who in reply to some objections of Poswell, argues “you are not,’ he says, ‘to deceive your client with false representation of your opinion. You are not to tell lies to the Judge, but you need have no scruple about taking up a case which you believe to be bad, or affecting a warmth which you do not tell. You do not know your case to be bad yourself may convince the judge, and if it does not convince yourself may convince the judge, and if it does convince him, you are wrong and he is right.

A recorded case which illustrates the difficult position an advocate often finds himself in is that of Courvoisier who murdered Lord William Russel in 1840. In the course of the trial, the prisoner informed his advocate Phillips, that he was guilty of the murder but at the same time directed Phillips to defend him to the last extremity. What course ought to be pursued, Phillips took into is confidence the eminent Judge who was presiding over the trial.

The judge declared that Phillips was bound to continue to defend the prisoner. But perhaps the most authoritative pronouncement on the subject is to be found in the great speech of Lord Brougham before the House of Lords in defence of Queen Caroline. “The Advocate,’ he said, ‘by the sacred duty which he owes to his client, knows in the discharge of that office, but one person of the world- his client and none other. To save that client by all expedient means, to protect that client at all hazards and costs to all others is the highest and the most unquestioned of his duties; and he must not regard the alarm, the suffering, the torment, the destruction which he may bring upon any other. Say what you will, the advocate has become an indispensible part of the machinery for the administration of justice. It is the business of the Judge to decide on the merits of the case and arguments on both sides only assist him to discharge that important function.”