SERAP Prescribes Tougher Sanctions For Corrupt Lawyers
Following growing allegations of corruption against some senior lawyers and their alleged complicity and facilitation of judicial corruption, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has called “for tougher sanctions against those involved if large scale political corruption is to be meaningfully combated and corruption-free judiciary is to become a reality.”
SERAP’s call is contained in a statement signed by its Executive Director Adetokunbo Mumuni.
The organisation stated that it was not only professional misconduct but that it was 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.
“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.” the statement read in part
It continued, “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.”
He contended that 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.
He further stated that even where a lawyer was not directly responsible for the act of corruption but facilitates or otherwise provides assistance to a principal offender, the lawyer should be liable as an accessory or accomplice and that this accountability mechanism for lawyers and judges must follow due process of law.
According to him, “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 ,he posited should provide strong leadership 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.
In his words, “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.