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Monday, 29 May 2023 08:04

Lawyers Differ Over Courts’ N58 Million Fines Against Legal Practitioners Challenging Tinubu’s Inauguration

This week alone, three different courts in Abuja imposed fines running into millions on several applicants, calling their applications “frivolous” and “misleading”, and threatening to report them to the Nigeria Bar Association.

THE WHISTLER spoke to lawyers on the development and on the lessons to learn from it.

The Court of Appeal on Thursday slammed a N40 million fine on the 2019 presidential candidate of the Hope Democratic party , Chief Ambrose Albert Owuru over his application to stop the May 29 inauguration of Bola Tinubu as president pending the determination of his case.

The next day, Friday, the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja presided over by Justice James Omotosho imposed a N16 million fine against Messrs Praise Isaiah, Paul Audu and Anongu Moses over their motion to stop Tinubu’s swearing-in until the Presidential Election Petition Court concludes sitting.

Earlier, same day, the Supreme Court criticized the People’s Democratic party for bringing before it a “misleading” application regarding Tinubu’s Vice-president-elect Kashim Shettima.”

It did not stop there, the apex court’s five-man panel led by Justice Inyang Okoro ordered the PDP to pay N2 million as fine to the respondents in the case.

All the fines were related to cases filed against President-elect Bola Tinubu whose swearing-in is expected to hold on May 29.

Reacting to the development, Dr. Joseph Nwadike Esq told THE WHISTLER in a phone interview that every judge or court has discretionary powers to award fines.

“That is their own discretion and reasoning. Maybe, in other times, the same court of coordinate jurisdiction or that particular court may also give a contrary decision depending on the parties at that court,” he said.

On the implication of such fines on lawyers, Nwadike says reports of such could intimidate lawyers from attempting to file an application.

“When developments like that happens, it becomes intimidating for one to start a suit because you may begin to think if you file a suit, that is how it is going to end.

“The lawyer will become intimidated even if he or she has a proper right to contest an issue in court.

“The implication is that it is going to cower down lawyers,” Nwadike added.

He explained that the penalty from the court will still not deter lawyers because a legal practitioner sees the law through his own perspective but it is left for the court to decide and say one’s perspective is wrong.

“Because the court interprets the law, it can say the word “and” means plus or minus or separately; when it gives such interpretation, the lawyer has nothing to do but to go on appeal.

“If it is a decision of the apex court (Supreme Court), the lawyer will have to appeal to God,” he said.

However, he was of the view that it is against the ethics of the profession for colleagues to try to mislead court or downplay what has already being settled by higher courts.

Citing the recent Court of Appeal judgement on Owuru, he added that “If truly, Supreme Court or higher court has decided a matter, it will be ridiculous for lawyers to bring it back again to lower courts.”

But sharing his understanding of the development, the Executive Director, Citizens Advocacy for Social & Economic Rights (CASER), Frank Tietie Esq, told THE WHISTLER on Sunday that fines or cost are awarded as a measure targeted at lawyers who operate below the standard stipulated by the judiciary.

“Incidentally , I have also been fined by a judge because in that case I went to ask for an adjournment when the court was ready to hear the matter while I said I was not ready; so the court imposed a fine of N10,000 to which I must pay.

“There is a reason. When a counsel displays a behaviour or carries out a behaviour that is below the expectation of a legal practitioner or does an act by filing a process that is considered below the dignity and expected minimum knowledge of a legal practitioner, it is proper for the court to slam punitive cost against the lawyers, it is not called fine.

“It is nothing new or strange, its a normal process because lawyers often times would do things that bring doubts to whether or not, they are actually legal practitioners especially the ones that have many years in their standing in terms of experience. Afe Babalola SAN has been fined before.

“It’s not a big deal, let’s not make any big deal out of it,” Tietie said.

He explained that while costs are backed by the inherent powers of the court, fines are defined according to a law made by the national assembly.

He further explained that where the law does not approve fines for certain behaviours, the court relies on its discretionary powers to impose cost against the lawyer or clients.

According to him, such cost is aimed at punishing behaviours not expected of a lawyer.

“It is called punitive cost.

“Court doesn’t have power to impose a fine, it is only the law that imposes a fine.

“Fines can be discretionary but where there is no law creating an offense and the court considers the behaviour of the counsel to be one requiring punishment, the court will impose punitive cost on either the client or the lawyer.

“And if the court is convinced that the lawyer did not properly advise his client, the court will now specifically mention that it is the counsel that must pay for not applying sufficient knowledge of the law in advising his client,” he said.

According to him, such costs reminds lawyers that there are consequences for operating below standard as a legal practitioner.

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