There is a general perception of a segment of the public that lawyers are liars. These individuals subconsciously believe that every lawyer is trained in the art of lying. This is however very far from the reality, lawyers are not liars!
There is no course in the entire training and teaching curriculum of lawyers that teaches ‘the art of lying’ as a topic. The reasons for this perception of lawyers are not hard to find.
Many believe their predicted result of a dispute is usually not the outcome of our judicial process. While this concern is valid, it cannot be the premise for saying lawyers are liars.
Anyone aware of the operation of our judicial process in Nigeria will know why this perception of lawyers is far from the truth. Why then does this image linger in the minds of an average individual about lawyers?
This can be as a result of the following reasons;
1. Lack of Knowledge of How Our Judicial Process Works
The judicial process in Nigeria is adversarial in nature. This means that the judge is an unbiased umpire in any dispute between two parties. The parties (i.e. party A and party B), depending on their ability to establish their case, are responsible for the outcome of any dispute.
The judge usually does not have a prior knowledge of the facts of the particular dispute before it. The parties come to court telling the different versions of their stories. The court, however, does not believe any of the stories.
Each party is responsible for establishing the truthfulness or otherwise of his version of the story. The court believes the story of the party who presents before it evidence that will convince the court that their version of the story is true.
Each party always get an opportunity to convince the court of the truth of their own version of the story. The court listens to each party as they attempt to convince it.
After listening to the parties before it, the court would form an opinion of which of the parties it believes. Thereafter, the court will then apply the law to the story that it has believed and give a verdict one way or the other.
2. Poor Understanding of How Stories Are Proved In Court.
As already established above, each party to a dispute succeeds or fails depending on its ability to convince the court to believe its story and disbelief that of the other party.
To prove its story, a party must place before the court positive evidence.
In other words, if ‘A’ says “B slapped me”, the court’s reply would be “prove to us that ‘B’ actually slapped you’.
In proof of the allegation, ‘A’ might resort to come to court himself and testify under oath or affirmation that ‘B’ slapped him.
A may also decide to call ‘C’ who saw when ‘B’ slapped ‘A’ to come to court and testify. ‘A’ may also in the alternative play a video or tender a picture showing when ‘B’ slapped him.
It is in the course of presentation of evidence to prove a party’s story that a case is either lost or won.
This is because the court regards a party’s story as facts which must be proved by evidence.
In other words, where ‘A’ says “B slapped me” and does not give evidence to prove that ‘B’ actually slapped him, verdict will not be given in A’s favour as he has not proved his allegation.
Under the Nigerian judicial process, it is one thing to say someone did this and another thing to prove it in court.
There are established rules that guide the presentation of evidence in court. A party who does not follow these rules will not be allowed to present any evidence in court no matter the amount of injustice he may suffer.
This is synonymous to what obtains in other professions.
For instance, no matter how knowledgeable you are about surgery, without a medical licence you cannot operate on a person in the medical profession.
In the football, no matter how good a player is, he cannot play in a football team unless the team signs him.
In the Nigerian judicial process, there are laid down rules for the presentation of evidence in court before such evidence can be accepted by the court.
When a party tries to present evidence in a manner not acceptable by rules of court, the judge has a legal duty to reject the evidence.
3. Lack Of Knowledge That Each Case Has Its Peculiarities.
In a bid to make the decision of the court predictable, the court has always highlighted a series of facts a party must prove to succeed in a particular case.
Where these series of facts are clearly stated, a party that wants to win in any case must prove these series of fact to the satisfaction of the court.
For instance, to prove the offence of murder the complainant through the State must prove three facts thus;
(a) The deceased died;
(b) The death of the deceased resulted from the act of the accused; and
(c) The accused caused the death of the deceased intentionally or with knowledge that death or grievous bodily harm was its probable consequence.
The above three facts must be established by evidence before the court can convict an accused person for the offence of murder.
Let’s assume ‘A’ is accused of killing ‘B’. In the course of his trial for murder ‘A’ confesses to the fact that he in fact killed ‘B’.
However ‘B’ or his dead body is nowhere to be found. ‘B’ was never reported buried, his death certificate or pictures were not presented before the court, and B’s body was not cremated.In fact, no reasonable explanation was given for the whereabouts of B’s body.
In this instance, it is obvious that facts (b) and (c) can be accepted as proved by the confession of ‘A’. But fact (a) cannot be accepted to have been proved.
The court cannot convict ‘A’ in this instance. It may well be that ‘A’ thought he killed ‘B’ but ‘B’ has escaped by some mysterious circumstances. In the eye of the court if the death of B cannot be proved ‘B’ remains alive.
Therefore the court cannot convict ‘A’ for the death of a person who may well be alive.
The judicial process in Nigeria is like an equation.
Using the murder example above a + b + c = conviction for murder. All students of basic elementary mathematics know that if 2 + 3 + 5 = 10 when you change ‘2’ to ‘3’the answer will change from ‘10’ to ‘11’.
So also in the case of murder, where ‘a’ (that the deceased died) is not proved before the court, the answer to our murder equation must definitely change. The answer to the murder equation can be anything but a conviction for murder.
In closing, the legal profession like other profession is made of human beings.
Human beings do not come in the same stock. Believe it or not some individuals will always be better than the others. That is why we have words like ‘champion’ ‘best’ ‘better’ etc.
So when in a particular dispute a lawyer who has not done his research meets one who has done his research, the result will not be in doubt.
There is a reason why Barcelona will always win Enyimba, why an individual will prefer to spend vacation in Europe than in Nigeria.
The reason is that Barcelona is better than Enyimba and Europe gives better relaxation than Nigeria. That’s the simple truth.
Sometimes, when good cases are lost in court, it is not because lawyers are liars rather it is because the party that lost did not do his homework while the other party that won passed his in flying colours.
Chimezie is young legal practitioner. He is a graduate of the University of Ibadan and the Nigerian Law school. His areas of interest include criminal and property law.
Dami Obaro is a graduate of the University of Ibadan. He is young lawyer passionate about making the law work in our society with particular interest in Environmental law practice, Oil and Gas law practice , Property law and Corporate and Investments law practice in general. Dami is an avid reader and researcher.