Here to return to HOMEPAGE
Senior Partner Emmanuel Roberts, Esq. addressed the
Sierra Leone Bar Association in 2004
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
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.
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
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
_ Keep proper records.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
lawyer would look up the relevant legislation, check
for amendments and regulations made there under and
assemble decided cases on the point.
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.
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.
has to be well educated
has to be well dressed and appear decent at all times
has to have self-confidence
has to have knowledge of the law, which means a well-equipped
library or access to law books
is often invited to formal functions in his community
as is expected to attend properly.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
will end this presentation with the oath taken by
all of us at the time of admission as a legal practitioner.
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”.