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Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Bar Council should ignore politicians and focus on lawyers’ discipline


From Walter Sandosam

The legal profession is in the limelight again given the various statements issued by the Bar Council. These are invariably related to “explaining” to the public at large on the workings of the judiciary, judgments passed by the courts at various levels and, to a certain extent, the rationale behind these.

It has also included chastening politicians for comments deemed prejudicial, presumably in the furtherance possibly of political interests, to the good order of the justice system in a democracy.

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It appears that the Bar Council is perturbed by politicians’ comments when it is the job of the attorney-general to act when attacks are made on the administration of justice, be it sedition or contempt of court.

Politics is not a profession and politicians, even in the wildest stretch of the imagination, cannot be perceived to be professionals. They do not belong to or need membership to a regulatory body which confers membership based on an approved body of knowledge to practise their craft, repulsive or objectionable as it may be to some.

Politicians are also not bound by any rules of etiquette as embodied in a “code of conduct”. In short, they can comment or verbalise on any matter which seeks to serve their interests as long as it does not fall foul of the laws of the land.

Lawyers, on the other hand, are members of an august body which licenses them to practice. Specifically, on conduct, the Legal Profession (Practice and Etiquette) Rules 1978 sets the barometer for the conduct of lawyers, not politicians.

It defines in no uncertain terms the etiquette and code of behaviour expected. Falling foul of this logically should result in retributions related to the severity of the “offence” after due process of being referred to the disciplinary committee.

Rule 6(a), read with Rule 24(a) of the LPPER 1978, provides for the expectations on lawyers when deciding to take on a case(s). It is for the Disciplinary Committee of the Bar Council to both interpret and take action depending on the veracity of breach, should there be one.

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In a recent high profile case, the Federal Court observed that “… new lawyers too, having accepted the brief, are not entitled to say that they need more time to prepare knowing fully well that the dates have been fixed in advance”.

Such a comment draws one to infer that there is a disciplinary issue involved here somewhere wherein there has been a breach of conduct or etiquette among some very senior lawyers of the Bar Council by accepting such a case(s).

Consequentially being admonished rather tersely by an equally senior member of the judiciary is an embarrassment to the profession.

The merits, or otherwise, of a court judgment is inconsequential in this context.

At the core of the issue is the conduct of certain specific members of the legal profession. Are these senior personalities an undisciplined lot?

This is where the Bar Council and its disciplinary board has to show its mettle as to the issue of discipline. Did the said lawyer(s) take on the case hoping for the best in terms of a possible adjournment, or any other turn of events when the case is brought to court, as is being inferred?

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The statement dated Aug 19 issued by the Bar Council president, titled “Abuse of process brings disrepute to our justice system”, bears testimony to this with specific reference to Rule 6 (a) of the LPPER. An excerpt reads ” … the advocates and solicitors involved in such acts have conducted themselves unprofessionally and would have to face disciplinary action”.

In this regard, perhaps one may construe, rightly or wrongly, that a recent Federal Court judgment awarding monetary damages to a senior lawyer against the Bar Council for failure to follow due process in taking disciplinary action against him has cast a pall on the council’s gusto in taking up speedily disciplinary cases against one or more of its own.

If there has been a breach of etiquette as intimated in the Bar Council president’s statement of Aug 19, then instead of admonishing politicians, all effort should be focused with haste on bringing to book those who have fallen short of the profession’s expectations and rules.

A layman is no wiser on whether there is a disciplinary issue here or not.

Politicians, on the other hand, will face their due at the polls.

Any delay casts a shadow on the integrity of all stakeholders in this saga. - FMT

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Walter Sandosam is retired senior research fellow and an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

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