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Former Senior Partner Emmanuel Roberts, Esq. addressed the Sierra Leone Bar Association in 2004

(Emmanuel Roberts is now a Judge of the Sierra Leone Court of Appeal and is no longer in private legal practise)

The 2004 Annual General Meeting of the Sierra Leone Bar Association has just been concluded with a new executive voted into office for a term of one year. The theme of the conference was “THE NOBLE PROFESSION IN PERSPECTIVE – A TIME OF INTROSPECTION”. The keynote speaker on the theme was The Hon. Mr. Justice Gelaga-King, Judge of the Special Court of Sierra Leone and Justice of the Court of Appeal in Sierra Leone.

Bearing in mind the very pivotal role it plays in present day Sierra Leone as one of the foremost pressure groups with an independent mind and an analytical eye of society in general, the conference attracted people from all works of life. The Lord Chief Justice of the Republic and the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, the titular head of the Bar graced the occasion and were invited to make statements.

The former Senior Partner of the firm Emmanuel E. Roberts Esq., a member of the association and a seating member of the Disciplinary Board of the General Bar Council was invited to give a lecture on “THE ROLE, CHALLENGES AND EXPECTATIONS OF THE LAWYER IN PRESENT DAY SIERRA LEONE.”

This opportunity could not have come at a better time in that being Sierra Leone’s largest practicing firm of lawyers at both the international and local platform, our experiences, thoughts and suggestions as to where next for lawyers in particular and the country as a whole were shared with the audience. Immediately following are excerpts from his speech.

THE ROLE, CHALLENGES, AND EXPECTATIONS OF THE LAWYER
IN PRESENT DAY SIERRA LEONE - Emmanuel Roberts, Esq.

It has often been held that there are only three professions in the world Medicine, Religion and Law. Only one of them is considered learned. The legal profession. All the rest are careers or vocations.

The legal profession is one of great history, tradition and myth and of course it is the subject of continual speculation, interest and sometimes envy and hate. Intrigue is another word often associated with this profession.

A lawyer plays a very important role in Sierra Leone. Our country is considered as one of the emerging democracies having barely recovered from one of the most brutal conflicts in Africa if not the modern world. The lawyer is one of the key players expected to play a significant part in the rebuilding of the state in so many respects such as good governance, sound democratic principles and structures, access to justice, fair and prompt administration of justice, protection of the rights of individuals and more.

Every citizen continually encounters situation and problems that involve the law and as M L Fredman states in his Access to the Law, “to deal with these problems effectively the citizen must find out what the relevant law is and how it affects him.  In serious and complex situations many citizens will rely on legal experts to advise them and recommend courses of action”.

The lawyer is presumed to be an educated, well trained and widely read gentleman with an open and analytical mind capable of looking at all the possible sides to an issue and give a reasoned opinion or advice and leaving very little to surprise or conjecture.  He should of course be a very resourceful, intelligent and hardworking person. Confident, fearless, decent, reliable and dependable.

With these attributes one would begin to understand why a lawyer is held in such high esteem in any society. There are various aspects of society where a lawyer is expected to play an important if not leading role whether in governance, public or private sector.

A lawyer is always looked upon to play a lead in advocating for the rights of the people generally. These may include all of the so-called rights e.g. the traditional human rights, economic right, social rights etc. Infact quite often lawyers are expected to make statements and take a position in all matters of public interest. I am not for one moment suggesting that lawyers should oblige all the expectations of the public by jumping each and every time to make a statement.

The phrase, “Pro bono Publico” is closely related to this kind of role-played by the lawyer. The expression “Pro bono publico” literally means “Anything done for the public good”.  A lawyer acting for the public good and not necessary for money is said to be acting pro bono.

However it would be prudent to make sure that as a lawyer you endeavor to have a more than a cursory or passing interest in matters of law or of public interest. It will for example be very embarrassing not to have any idea or knowledge of the creation of the Special Court of Sierra Leone. This brings me to certain comments I wish to highlight about pupil masters. So much is expected or desired of them; for young barristers/pupils invariably copy and adopt the style and idiosyncrasies and general attitude and disposition of their pupil masters. It is a dangerous habit to preach lofty and glorious ideas but doing exactly the opposite. I will say this to all seniors please practice what you preach.

A lawyer of necessity is enjoined to have a passionate interest in the rule of law.  It is his duty to always and at all times endeavour to uphold the law, to ensure that people have confidence in the law, the judiciary and in the administration of justice. Always let people know that no matter what the issue is or the circumstance at hand there is an answer or solution that is just and equitable and it can be found in the law.

Lawyers are always reminded of their duty to their client, their colleagues the public at large etc.  I would like to dwell a little if you would permit me on particular circumstance and situations, which will help, illustrate the role and expectations of a lawyer.              

Lawyers among others in society are expected to do all they can to influence the executive in ensuring good governance. The stature and independence of the lawyer are attributes that would ensure that he is fearless and confident enough to make observations, criticisms and contributions in matters of state. When lawyers speak, people listen.But here I will caution, don’t push them too far. I mean the criticisms.                                                       

Lawyers play a vital role in the enactment of laws that govern various aspects of society. From the drafting to the legislative stages, lawyers are heavily engaged. It behoves us to ensure that proper and enforceable laws are enacted and that draftsmen are all trained and qualified lawyers.  In parliament, the lawyers who are MPs are expected to play a leading part in the enactment of the legislations of Sierra Leone. We really cannot escape responsibility for the kinds of laws passed.

In the interpretation of these laws, the lawyers become all important.  It is our duty to ensure that the courts are respected, that justice is promptly and fairly dispensed and that people/litigants have trust and confidence in the judiciary and the decisions of judges whether they win or lose. The lawyer ought to argue diligently and candidly providing the bench with all legal materials to enable him give reasoned judgment for posterity. I am sure you are familiar with this expression that “it is the province of knowledge to speak and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen”. How about this joinder; “the lawyer with knowledge speaks the judge with wisdom listens”. And so the knowledge of the bar and the wisdom of the bench result in justice.

The lawyer is also the legal adviser to his client. Private litigants rely so much on the knowledge, competence and advice of their lawyers. The lawyers make and/or influence important decisions of the client that may alter his financial social economic position sometimes permanently.

Also the lawyer, if a State Law Officer gives important legal advice and opinion to the state, government departments and agencies, some parastatals and statutory bodies. In short all aspects of society rely often on the advice and opinion of lawyers. We are in a position to influence most if not every thing in society.

We are presumed to be equipped to handle all of the above issues. But a pertinent question here is; what makes us so equipped? If we address the following then we would be more than prepared to play the role, meet the expectations and earn the respect that we have commanded, demand or desire.                         

Competence

A well-trained lawyer would have laid a solid foundation to build on in practice. However you must work diligently, know your law, prepare proper tidy and adequate papers, file promptly and sufficiently well in time. Avoid making application for the “setting aside of judgment in default of appearance or requesting enlargement of time etc”.  Also if you think a matter is beyond your competence, inform your clients and/or consult or brief another solicitor whom you believe is competent to handle it.  In some commonwealth jurisdictions, Australia for one, a rule had been suggested where a lawyer “shall not accept a brief or instructions which are beyond his competence”. I recall a very elderly colleague who instituted an Admiralty Action with so many errors, defects and irregularities. Papers were filed to set aside his Writ including his wrongful arrest of the vessel. The matter was urgent and the motion was to have come up on a Saturday. Having learnt of the application and realizing his mistakes he made sure he could not be short served. However in disappearing from his office he left his pair of glasses, and briefcase. It was clear that he was hiding. I can only say here to colleagues do not accept a brief you know is beyond your competence.

Discipline

We must admit that lawyers generally and the Bar Association in particular have been the subject of much debate criticism and complaint, often justifiably.  Complaints of misconduct of various kinds have been reported both privately and publicly.  Quite candidly some colleagues are to our knowledge guilty of behaving disgracefully to their clients, their colleagues and the court etc. Exuding confidence should not be mistaken for a show of arrogance and disregard for your client. Do not forget who pays the fees.  Inelegant and unprofessional language is unacceptable in this profession; remember ours is the learned profession. Lawyers are also expected to dress tidily and appropriately and even in chambers on Saturdays for example make sure you are ready if called upon to attend court, the chambers of the Chief Justices and other judges and justices. I recall several years ago when I wore a pair of brown shoes to court. They were cosy and certainly the most comfortable pair in my shoe rack. One senior counsel saw me. He looked at my feet, my eyes, then back at my feet. I never wore brown shoes to court after that day.

A serious issue of discipline for lawyers is in dealing with client’s money. Suffice it to so say that many lawyers do not keep good and proper records of accounts in relation to monies paid by or on behalf of clients for onward transmission. We all know what I am talking about here. We all may have been guilty of it on one occasion or another during our years in practice.

I will proffer the following for all of us:

    _ Open a client’s account in addition to and separate from your own

    _ Put their monies there

    _Issue and/or demand receipt (even if temporary) in any money  transaction. 
( Do not forget the signature witness and date )

    _ If it is money received from A for onward transmission to B let the receipt clearly reflect this

   _ Keep proper records.

Many of us do not keep good and proper records. You can start to put things straight now start now. The Legal Practitioners Act 2000 Act. No. 15 of 2000 clearly provides for the responsibilities of lawyers as well as providing what conduct may be considered an offence or “unprofessional, dishonourable or unworthy conduct”. Even breach of confidentiality between you and your client or colleague” for which disciplinary steps may be taken against you by the disciplinary committee has now been established under the Act.

Under this Act, colleague, ladies and gentlemen not only financial malpractice but professional negligence, touting champerty and under charging fees are all offences. Mark you, the Disciplinary Committee established under Section 6 (1) of the Act has extensive powers of discipline and may suspend a lawyer or even have his name deleted from the Roll of Court.

Colleagues at the bar, I know many of us do not have a copy of this Act. Please get one read it and keep it.  Having read it myself I can say to you if you cannot be good be careful. 

I have seen several codes of conduct of lawyers in other jurisdiction including the code of professional conduct for counsel appearing before the International Criminal Court and believe me when I say that the basic standards regarding professional conduct are universal.  They include candor, diligence, confidentiality, fairness, courtesy, integrity, impartiality etc.

It has been argued that in disciplinary proceedings against a lawyer his identity ought to be suppressed until an adverse finding is made.  In the Australian case of Keppie V Law society of the Australian Capital territory 1983) it was held in the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory that in the disciplinary proceedings until an adverse finding is made the identity of the lawyer must be kept secret (of course this was upon application made by the lawyer). However it is not clear whether this application for anonymity may be made under our Legal Practitioners Act.

It is also not clear whether the Disciplinary Committee has power to request a negligent solicitor to take steps to put his client in the position he would have been had he not acted negligently.  For example to order a lawyer to rectify the results of his incompetence such as redrafting and re-registering a conveyance at his own expense. Lawyers may also be required to forfeit all or part of their fees for bad professional work.

Integrity and Confidentiality:   A lawyer should always maintain the highest level of integrity. Never compromise your client’s interest and make sure your client believes this. At all material time, put your client’s interest first above even your own.  Be open and candid with the client, the court and your colleague.  Avoid telling lies to secure an adjournment.  A lawyer once told a court that his client was ill and in hospital and could not attend court only for the client to walk in to the court at that very moment explaining that he was late because he got caught in traffic. How embarrassing. Do not make false statements in affidavits; you would be lying on Oath. In short do not employ unsavoury tactics just to win a matter at all cost.

Also never disclose confidential information obtained from or about your client to others. Avoid urging or encouraging your client to unduly influence the bench. Not only would you render yourself redundant, you would only succeed in embarrassing your self and in the process break the law.

Accessibility:    As a lawyer please make yourself accessible to your client or the public. Many members of the public do not contact lawyers when they have a problem. They are often intimidated by the physical appearance of the lawyers, their sometimes majestic chambers, rumours of high or exhorbitant fees. They are only forced to consult them when the matter has become serious and complex. Without lowering standards, make yourselves accessible. After all for the layman the lawyer is an obvious and reliable source of information comfort and advice on legal matters. We are in the position to handle such issues and our expert knowledge allows us to establish the facts understand the potential implications and to consider the laws bearing on the question that might be over looked by a non-lawyer.                                         

The lawyer would look up the relevant legislation, check for amendments and regulations made there under and assemble decided cases on the point.

Also dear colleagues please do not ask exhorbitant fees.  Reasonable fees? Yes. High fees? perhaps.  But exhorbitant fees? I think not!  I asked a senior colleague once as to better ways of charging fees. This triggered a discussion about billing clients. Some especially foreign clients prefer that you bill them per hour or per day etc.  The first experience I had left me a little embarrassed as I have not had the experience or knowledge of general -billing rates for me not to ask for less than I deserved for the particular work.  Billing may be hourly, per document, per transactions, per telephone call etc.  Proper billing or requesting adequate fees will no doubt help in the lawyer’s preparation of his case.

Colleagues at the bar ladies and gentlemen, I may have a lot to add on what I have said so far on the role and expectations of the lawyer. Time will not permit me. I may with your indulgence briefly touch on just a few challenges facing the lawyer.

He has to be well educated

He has to be well dressed and appear decent at all times

He has to have self-confidence

He has to have knowledge of the law, which means a well-equipped library or access to law books

He is often invited to formal functions in his community as is expected to attend properly.                                      

All of these suggest that the lawyer has to have some reasonable funds at his disposal in order to cope with these fairly reasonable expectations. I will say to colleagues that this is no excuse to milk the client dry or employ all kinds of unscrupulous means to get wealthy. It will come.  The key is to work hard, be honest, diligent, resourceful and polite. Be a decent fighter. Word will go round. And it will come.

I will finally implore the Bar Association to call meetings, hold talks etc. among ourselves to plan ways in which we may improve our conduct and thus enhance and restore our image to what it was in the glorious past.

Furthermore to enhance our capacity and competence, the Association may consider inviting experts and senior colleagues to deliver papers at meetings on new and emerging areas of the law. There is the area of Alternative Dispute Resolution which is gaining wind in the US and Europe. This (ADR) does not necessarily result in reduction in your fees but it will reduce the cost of litigation both in terms of money and time.  Training on billing and costing may also be very useful.

Curiously there are no opportunities in Sierra Leone for lawyers in terms of refreshers training programmes.  The special court organized a few in house training programmes, which were invaluable and very much appreciated. However there is little else available in that respect. A (human right) lawyer for example may find in difficult to file a case in the African Commission if briefed to do so. I lay these suggestions at the feet of the association. Please don’t step on them. Let us take steps. You never try; you never know. Finally, I hope I speak for all barristers when I say this to all our clients and the public at large.

We are competent and capable and we care. A few of us may have behaved (or may be behaving) badly but we have mechanisms to straighten them and we shall use them. Continue to have confidence in us.  Sierra Leone lawyers acquit themselves admirably in all areas of law in the world. Locally and internationally. The I.C.J., the Commonwealth and even the Special Court for Sierra Leone. In fact reports reaching us suggest that our Sierra Leonean colleagues are doing so well. So continue to have trust and confidence in us. To those who believe, no further assurance is necessary; to those who do not, no further assurance shall be given.

I will end this presentation with the oath taken by all of us at the time of admission as a legal practitioner.

It reads and I quote “I do solemnly swear that I will truly and honestly demean myself in the office of a barrister and solicitor according to the best of my knowledge and ability”.

I thank you.

Sierra Leone Lawyers
Barristers and Solicitors of the High Court of Sierra Leone
For more information, please contact us directly at
Macauley, Bangura & Co.
(now handling all matters pertaining to Roberts & Partners)

4th Floor, UMC Building.
31, Lightfoot Boston Street, Freetown, Sierra Leone
Tel: +232-22-226164 and +232-22-228936
Fax: +232-22-222115
and +232-22-224227
Email: info@mbclegal.org
Website: www.macauleybangura.org
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