MAUDLYN PARK Counsel; “ My lord, my principal instructed me on this matter just late last night. I am not seized of the facts of the matter yet.” His lordship: “If you like let him call you this morning. What have you got to say” Counsel, was yet to respond before his lordship interjected, simultaneously dipping his pen into the Quink ink bottle placed to his right on the desk and stated both his disapproval and disappointment of the seeming unpreparedness of some lawyers before coming to court to present their cases.
Hear him. “Nowadays, lawyers take solace from the knowledge that the interest of justice covers everything. Hmm, this interest of justice is very accommodating, na whao! (pauses), and then adds’ in the interest of greater justice,’ this case is adjourned till------- The attentive audience cheered ‘as the court pleases’ in unison. The ecumenical equivalent of this chorus would be ’Amen’. On that jolly refrain, half of those in attendance took their leave of the court with a bow. Some made a full bow with foreheads almost to the knee,, others made an exaggerated bow, yet some made a stiff bend while others simply nodded with eyes blinked for a second.. Another day, another dollar! Next! Counsel; “My lord, with due respect to this honorable court, my principal who was to carry out the cross-examination woke up this morning with an excruciating waist pain.
Undeterred by the pain, he got robed and he was on his way to this honourable court when his car broke down on the road. He said to me by telephone to mention that he would be much obliged if this honourable court could consider another date for the matter.” This request was greeted with a loud and long snorting of hmmm from the adverse party but the court gave in for a further two weeks rather grudgingly, I must add here. His lordship; “Are you sure that your principal’s waist pain would have been cured and his car repaired by then?” Counsel: “I believe he would be alright by then, my lord” Another day, another dollar! And so this really annoying, contrived and deceptive drivel went on and on in so many disguises in the different courtrooms which I visited.. If this was the speed with which cases are disposed of in this country how do lawyers put food on the table for their families and for themselves? Or is the study of law in Nigeria just to earn the prefix, Barrister to a name; or to earn the prestige of the surfix, ESQ to a name? There is no gain saying the snail-speed nature of the administration of justice in the courts in the land.
Those held on phony charges alone burst the prison wards. Adjournments! The locus classicus of adjournments was that told us, Bar PART 1 students at the time, by one of the ebullient lecturers at the Bwari , Abuja campus of the Nigerian Law School as it were to prepare our minds of eventualities, the extent and depth of the sluggishness, slothfulness and also the seeming acceptance by all the parties concerned. The story involved the case of a lawyer from one of the Southern States of the country who worked on an intractable land matter. This land matter was so lucrative that within five years of ’landing’ the brief , the lawyer was able to finance his marriage ceremonies in both traditional and western versions from the proceeds. He was still working on the brief when his children came one after the other. He also financed his children’s education from the gains of the brief. He was still seriously working on the brief when his first son finished schooling, attended the university, qualified as a lawyer and joined his father’s practice. A few years later, dad felt confident leaving the practice to the capable hands of his son and proceeded on holiday. On his return, his son narrated to him with relish how he had finally, finally concluded that intractable land matter. Son; ‘I pleaded with all the parties to settle the matter amicably and out of court since it has dragged on for many years. I am satisfied and happy to say dad , that the parties saw reason with me. I thought you’d approve dad” Father: “ Do you realize what you have done? Do you? Son, you have killed the goose that lays the golden egg”. (presumably dad had both hands on his head, in an alarm raising mogbe ooooo manner of speaking and expression) Adjournments’ calm in the courtrooms come before the storm.
A fact which justifies the understanding of some capsuled lessons on Adjournment Moments 101 mandatory for the newly qualified ( the old hands are no longer fazed by these gimmicks), parties to the matter and even as lay but interested readers towards an appreciation of what the lawyers game-plan could be all about in the courtroom. Below therefore, is a simple guide with thinking caps on. Plausible reasons for adjournment, adjournments for taking advantage of court procedure, unforeseen circumstances as cause for an adjournment, unpreparedness as cause of adjournments , adjournments for loss of interest, adjournments for bidding time, adjournments to frustrate the other party’s efforts, business adjournments for dragging on the matter in order to give clients the impression that the lawyer is worth his weight in gold and shall I go on, on trade secrets? I once shared the frustration of the administration of justice in the land with a young man seated next to me on the plane, himself by sheer coincidence a lawyer. He suggested without my prodding, many useful ways of employment outside of practice and also disclosed out of his own volition ,exuding such confidence and without fear of exaggeration that more than 80 per cent of those who passed through the Nigerian law school in each year do not practise for the same reasons that I was complaining about to him. No, I said, that’s a preposterous percentage. Join a political party, he advised. Yeah ! Politics must be an inherently lucrative business then? I inquired. “In this country (Nigeria) fortunately yes and fashionable too.” He agreed rather emphatically. Join a political party? But which party? There are about 30 political parties. And at this point the young man starred hard at me, either at my naivety or ignorance. I caught on, on his perplexity from the expression writ large on his face. Ah! The PDP, a party with a preponderance of particular TALENTS was what I said to send him laughing and coughing interchangeably for quite a while. Can we have a glass of water please? Maudlyn Park, broadcaster and barrister wrote in from Cambridge, UK
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