Not just the pre-call pictures, have you been to court lately?
Just last week, I stepped into a mall to pick up some items. A young man approached me and tried to communicate with me in the Hausa language. I apologized to him and replied, saying, “Mallam no vex, I no sabi Hausa.” I apologized because he misrepresented things by my dressing in caftan and kube (Hausa cap), which is the common mode of dressing among the Hausa men.
“The way you dress is how you are addressed” is a popular saying not peculiar only to tribe and religion but also to professions. It is easy to recognize a Laboratory Scientist with his Lab coat and a Legal Practitioner with his dark suit, wig, gown, and bib in court and certain other instances where it is permitted. It is also easy to recognize a lunatic in his torn dirty clothes and a clown in his funny attire.
On the 16th of September 2020, a petition was written and signed B. Inem Esq, where he brought to the attention of the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee and some other regulatory bodies in the Legal Profession to the outrageous colours and styles of clothing worn by the new wigs.
The petition was of no surprise. Taking pre-call to bar pictures robbed as a Legal Practitioner (rightly or wrongly) has become a tradition. However, taking these pictures in red, blue, green, and other odd colours was indeed overboard. In an attempt to slay at pre-call shoots, some persons might have slain the legal profession unintentionally.
My Opinion as regards the petition dated 16th of September 2020
“Nulla poena sine lege,” meaning one cannot be punished for doing something that is not prohibited by law. They cannot be punished because there is no express law against it. The Petitioner quoted Rule 45(2)(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct hereinafter referred to as RPC, apparently forgetting that as at the time the pictures were taken or posted on various platforms on social media, the accused persons were not yet legal practitioners, and the RPC can apply to only Legal Practitioners. The necessary question will be;
Who are Legal Practitioners?
A Legal Practitioner “means a person entitled in accordance with the provisions of this Act to practice as a barrister or as a barrister and solicitor, either generally or for the purposes of any particular office or proceedings.” (see: Section 24 Legal Practitioners Act). As at when the pictures were taken, they were not “entitled under the act to practice.” A person is entitled to practice after he has been called to the bar and enrolled as a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
While I totally agree that it is an aberration and an embarrassment to the sober legal profession, it is unfortunate that the petition which rested on the RPC cannot hold water in law.
My opinion generally: How can this menace be expunged?
While the petition might not hold water in law, this petition was indeed timely and an eye-opener to the fact that the sanctity of the legal profession has been dragged to the mud by these “colourful advocates.” The necessary bodies that were probably not aware are now in the know and can now put in place independent and clear laws, rules, and sanctions against pre-call shoots or clearly spell out punishments on law school graduates who go beyond the regular dark suit or gown for ladies under the wig, gown, and bib. It should not end with just the pre-call shoot, but other underlying issues should be addressed as well.
I humbly recommend that the General Bar Council and the Council of Legal education set up a committee to enact a law titled the Dress code for Legal Practitioners and aspirants to the bar rules. These rules should govern:
- Law students in Universities: In certain universities in Nigeria, the traditional black trousers/skirts and white shirts are worn just on some specific days. In some universities, gowns and trousers are worn by female law students while some Universities allow skirts only. This shows a lack of uniformity.
- Law students in the Nigerian law school: On some campuses, black, blue, and burnt gray suits are allowed while some allow just black suits. Once again, this shows a lack of uniformity, which should be addressed.
- Law school graduates during pre-call shoots: I will not advise scrapping the pre-call shoots for several reasons; I will rather advise clear regulations on it and also sanctions where there is a default.
- Aspirants to the bar on call to bar day: I will not like to refer to the lady who insisted on getting called in her Hijab and was obliged. But for the fear that one day Sister Mary will insist on getting called in her scarf because her religion emphasizes properly covering her hair, I suggest a clear regulation be made and followed strictly.
- Legal Practitioners in court: While the RPC clearly spells this out, the aforementioned proposed rule, which should specifically address “dress code,” could reiterate it or put it more clearly.
- Legal Practitioners in other formal gatherings
In summary, the aforementioned rules should clearly:
- Spell out the uniform way law students in Universities should dress.
- Spell out the uniform way law school students should dress.
- Spell out the uniform way aspirants to the bar should dress during a pre-call shoot.
- Spell out the uniform way aspirants to the bar should dress on their call to bar day.
- Spell out the uniform way Legal Practitioners should dress in court and other formal functions.
This write up will not be complete if I do not clearly spell out how a Legal Practitioner should appear in court. According to a notice put up on the 27th of March 2018 on www.fcthighcourt.gov.ng, Babangida Hassan (Chief Registrar) on behalf of the Chief Judge of the FCT stated that a Legal Practitioner should appear thus-
Dark suits (preferably black), white shirts (winged collar or white detachable collars), and a white bib, black socks, black shoes, and stripped black trousers may be worn.
White blouse, dark jacket (preferably black) and black skirts covering knees (dark suit), and black shoes are to be worn with white collarette and bib. There should be no embroidery and trimmings of any type and only moderate jewelry.
In both cases, counsel shall also wear a wig and Barristers’ Gown and refrain from any other apparel not specifically mentioned above or provided by any regulation made by the Bar Council or the Body of Benchers.”
As of today, the foregoing remains the only mode of dressing approved for lawyers appearing before superior courts of record in Nigeria.