How lawyers forged judgments to get SAN title, by CJN
Justice Walter Onnoghen
• Police to investigate, prosecute arrested culprits
• Legal body restores Ogunba to senior advocate
An unspecified number of lawyers have been apprehended for forging court judgments in a bid to qualify as Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN).
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, made the disclosure yesterday at an event marking the beginning of the 2018/2019 Legal Year for the Supreme Court and the conferment of the prestigious title on 30 lawyers.
SAN may be bestowed on legal practitioners of not less than 10 years’ standing and who have distinguished themselves in the legal profession.
Onnoghen said the culprits submitted forged judgments to the Legal Practitioners and Privileges Committee (LPPC) as requirements for qualification, stressing they would be tried accordingly.
“I have to point out the fact that in the just-concluded exercise, some applicants were found to have engaged in dishonourable conducts such as the forgery of judgments, resulting in their being reported to the police for investigation and possible prosecution. We have to know that if one is not for any reason qualified to wear silk as a judicial officer, he cannot wear it as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria,” the CJN said.
He commended members of the committee tasked with “scrutinising over 4,000 judgments, trial proceedings and publications and conducting disciplinary proceedings on petitions received against Senior Advocates.”
On the state of the nation, Onnoghen warned persons in power not to lose sight of the indispensable role of the judiciary in the fight against corruption. According to him, “If we allow and respect the rule of law, then there would be a drastic reduction in corruption and injustice.”
He noted that corruption and other forms of injustice thrive in a culture of impunity. To carry out a successful campaign against corruption, there is the need to fight, first, the culture of impunity, he said.
In his remarks, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami (SAN) appealed to judges to brace up to challenges that may come before, during and after the general elections.
According to him, as part of efforts to make the judiciary independent, President Muhammadu Buhari has assented to the constitutional amendment, which allows budget allocations to be paid directly to heads of courts.
Also, Chief Onomigbo Okpoko (SAN), who spoke on behalf of the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, warned lawyers against distorting issues and facts to make judges vet undeserved judgments for their clients, especially politicians.
Shedding light on the scandal, Chief Niyi Akintola (SAN) explained: “Such things do happen. Some lawyers in desperation to get silk go to the extent of forging court judgments and some of them have been caught. What they do is get a judgment of court, prosecuted by another person, and impose their names on it. Even a judge has, in fact, been removed after being sworn in. They insert their names on judgments obtained by another lawyer.”
Corroborating Akintola’s submission, another SAN, Chijioke Okoli, added: “Once a judgment of court is tampered with, it has become a forgery and this includes adding and removing of things or statements. This is because judgments usually have counsel representation.”
The LPPC meanwhile has restored the SAN title to Mr. Kunle Ogunba, a lawyer, who was defrocked early this year.
The title was withdrawn January 11, following a petition by the Honeywell Group alleging Ogunba instituted a multiplicity of proceedings before different judges of the Federal High Court on the same subject matter.
A September 20 notice to Ogunba, signed by the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court/Secretary, LPPC, Hadizatu Uwani Mustapha, reads, “Kunle Ogunba SAN: Notice Of Restoration of the Award of The Rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria on your Person with all its Privileges.
“Further to your letter of September 11, 2018, in which you presented to the LPPC attached documents in compliance with the conditions laid down in paragraph 27 of the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee Guidelines 2018, the committee after a careful consideration of the letter and accompanying documents, found the character references to be valid and the applications for review granted. The committee hereby allows the restoration of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria on your person and the privileges of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
“You are hereby advised to conduct your case(s) in the best tradition of the legal profession and uphold the honour and dignity which the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria commands.”