Inibehe Effiong: A Lawyer Can Be Sent To Prison By A Judge For Contempt By Stanley Alieke, Esq.

Inibehe Effiong: A Lawyer Can Be Sent To Prison By A Judge For Contempt By Stanley Alieke, Esq.

Yesterday a popular and outspoken Nigerian lawyer and human right activist, Mr. Inibehe Effiong was sent to prison for one month by the Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom state, Her Lordship, Justice Ekaette Obot for contempt of court.

Some individuals have expressed concerns and genuine shock over the incident and have been asking around to know if a judge has the power to send a lawyer who is appearing before the court in defence of his client to jail for doing the job of representing his client.

Due to the circumstances surrounding this particular issue and the status of the persons involved especially the status of the person of her Lordship, Madam Obot, the Chief Judge of Akwa Ibom state; the purport of this piece is not to determine if her lordship is right or wrong to have sent a lawyer to jail for contempt (that can only be determined on appeal or by other judges) rather this piece purports to answer the question and educate readers “whether a judge has the power to send a lawyer appearing before him to jail for contempt and things that a lawyer can do in court while appearing in the court for the lawyer to be held to have committed contempt of court”.

Contempt of court is a serious offence and a lawyer will be said to have committed contempt of court if the lawyer does something that interferes with the powers of the Court to administer justice or does anything which may in any way obstruct the course of justice or tries to undermine the authority or power of the court to administer justice and the Court is entitled to invoke its innate powers to punish the person, be it a lawyer or a bystander by committing the person to prison till the person purges him or herself of the contempt and apologise to the court.

The legal profession is an honourable profession so there are laws and rules regulating the affairs of lawyers in court and even out of court. A lawyer is expected to be disciplined and display a high level of integrity and professionalism at all times.

In court, a lawyer is expected to conduct his case with utmost respect and discipline; respect and regard for the co-lawyers on the other side of the divide, and respect to the bench (the judge(s)). A lawyer should never on any account raise his voice on a judge or show any form of disrespect to a judge or never be seen to use some foul tone or foul language on a judge or while addressing other counsels or any other person present in court. If a lawyer does that he will be held to have committed contempt of court and a judge has the power to order the committal of the lawyer to prison till the lawyer purges himself of the contempt.

S. 31(1) of the Rules of Professional Conduct provides; A lawyer shall always treat the court with respect, dignity, and honour. Subsequently, S.35 of the same RPC further provides; A lawyer appearing before a judicial tribunal or court shall accord due respect to it and shall treat the tribunal/court with courtesy and dignity.

When a lawyer shows any sign of disrespect to a judge or disregard for the judicial process he will be held in contempt and will be ordered to step out of the bar and “derobe” himself.

The issue of whether a judge can send a lawyer to prison for contempt without giving the lawyer the chance to defend himself and exercise his right to a fair hearing will be an issue for discussion on a later day but it is totally lawful that a judge can send a lawyer to prison on grounds of contempt of court till the lawyer purges himself of the contempt.

Applying these established rules to what transpired between Barr. Inibehe Effiong and the Honourable CJ of Akwa Ibom yesterday, according to the eye witness report, it was said that Barr. Effiong raised his voice at the judge and addressed the judge in a rude and disrespectful manner, hence the reason why the judge ordered him to step out of the bar and derobe and sentenced him to a one-month jail term.

We all hope that caution will prevail and this issue between her honourable Lordship and the ferocious Barr Effiong will be settled amicably in no distant time.

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