_ BY CHRISTOPHER EMMANUEL.
The use of the word “ barrister ” beside a lawyer`s name is not in itself wrong nor unprofessional. Having been duly called to the prestigious Nigerian bar and enrolled at the Supreme Court as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, there is nothing wrong for a lawyer in Nigeria to associate the term“ barrister,”“ solicitor,”“advocate,” ” legal practitioner,”“ lawyer,”or any related term with his name.
Precisely, there is nothing wrong with the following: “ Chukwu Abel, Barrister-at-Law,”“ Sani Peter, Barrister & Solicitor,”“ Auwal Chindo, Solicitor & Advocate,”“ Tsonde Joseph, Legal Practitioner,”“ Bolarinwa Vincent, Barrister.” There is also nothing wrong if I run into a lawyer on my way to a meeting and greet him in the following manner, “ Good morning, Barrister.”
These are not what this article is all about. This article is as regards writing the name of, or addressing a lawyer in any of the following forms, “ Barrister Haruna Aminu”or ” Barrister Vivian Amos.”Now, over to the crux of the matter at hand!
Everything is wrong with use of the word “ barrister” as a prefix ( title ) before a lawyer`s name. Such usage is not just wrong, but irredeemably wrong, demeaning, awkward, unnecessary and now unprofessional, from whichever angle one decides to look at it – I consider it, with the greatest respect, misplaced and lacking any legal, moral, professional, grammatical or social foundation.
An argument on the appropriateness or otherwise of the use of the word ” Barrister” as a prefix before a Lawyer’s name has a strong bearing on three areas of interest: (a.) professional practice; (b.) law; and (c.) grammar.”
The Postion Of Law With Particular Reference To The Legal Profession:
While section 22 (1) (b) of the Legal Practitioners Act permits only lawyers to take or use the title of legal practitioner, it does not say the later should use the expression “ legal practitioner”or “ barrister”as a title before his names. The proper interpretation of that paragraph is that only a person duly qualified as a lawyer can hold himself out as a legal practitioner by using that title.
Furthermore, in the case of NGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION (NBA) v. OFOMATA, reported in (2017) 5 NWLR (PT 1557) 128 at 133, the LPDC had held that the use of “ the appellation of ‘Barrister’ as a title before the name of a legal practitioner is unprofessional and improper; …”
Even though the Courts of Law in reaching their decisions, are guided by the provisions of statutes. Yet, when a court has made some clear pronouncement on the interpretation of a certain (provision of a) statute, the affected legislation must thenceforth be interpreted and applied only in line with such court pronouncement. This in other words means that in any such situation, one is no longer entitled to apply or interpret the provisions of such statute without recourse to the decision of court thereon.
The Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee is a tribunal established by law, with a mandate to guide lawyers in Nigeria as to what is or is not “unprofessional” and also regarding what action or omission by a legal practitioner amounts or does not amount to a “misconduct.” The LPDC has now given a decision that the use of “the appellation of ‘Barrister’ as a title before the name of a legal practitioner is unprofessional and improper.”
As far as lawyers and the legal profession are concerned. Hence, there is no doubt that the use of the word “barrister”as a prefix before a lawyer`s name remains banned for being unprofessional and amounting to misconduct – It is unprofessional! It is demeaning, childish and it lacks any legal foundation!
The Grammar Connection:
The word“Barrister” is an English word; and law in Nigeria is majorly derived from England! Put differently, the English Legal System is a most dominant source of the Nigerian Legal System. A notable English dictionary defines the word “barrister” in the following words: “(Law) Also called: barrister-at-law (in England) a lawyer who has been called to the bar and is qualified to plead in the higher courts.”
The Black`s Law Dictionary says that a “barrister” is “in English law, an advocate; one who has been called to the bar. A counsellor learned in the law who pleads at the bar of the courts, and who is engaged in conducting the trial or argument of cases.”
The word “barrister”is used appropriately to refer to only two things: (1) a certain “profession”and or (2) a member of, or a person qualified in that profession. Moreover, “barrister, as an English word, is a noun, not an adjective and must never be used as an adjective. If I say “Alfred Samaila, Barrister-at-Law,”I have used the word/term appropriately. But if I say or write “Barrister Miracle Samuel,” I have committed a grammatical gaffe!
Now, compare the use of the words, “Mr.,” “Mrs.,”“Ms., or“Miss.” The Cambridge English Dictionary describes or defines “Mr.” as “a title used before the family name or full name of a man…” while “Mrs.” is “a title used before the family name or full name of a married woman…”
“Barrister” is not in the same category as “Mr.,” “Mrs.,” etc. So, any use of “barrister”as a title before a person`s name is grammatically wrong, childish and awkward. There is no doubt about this! – A lawyer who knows his onions ought to know that it`s wrong to use BARRISTER before his names – I see it used only by lawyers who suffer from inferiority complex.
Most times, Lawyers in Courtroom call themselves Counsel. You hear judges call Lawyers that appear before them Counsel. Even with this, you cannot draft a document and put your name as“Counsel Samuel Ashu.” That is comical and ridiculous. Of course, some Lawyers write agreement and put something like this “Barrister Goodness Ubama.” This is not necessary because whether you specialize as a Barrister or a Solicitor or practice as both, you still remain a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. Why remove the Solicitor and just address yourself with that “Barrister.”
If a Nigerian lawyer travels to any of these countries, e.g., Britain, USA, Canada, Australia, Italy, etc.), and addresses or introduces himself as, “Barrister J.J Josiah,” his audience would react with some scorn, jeer, disbelief, puzzlement or all of the above!
In conclusion, it is very wrong for a lawyer to use or be addressed with the word “barrister” as a prefix before his name. It is wrong legally; it is contemptible professionally; it is inappropriate grammatically; it is unsuitable socially and it is inacceptable formally; such practice is therefore clearly unprofessional, demeaning, and downright childish. Indeed, everything is wrong with it!
A lawyer has a general ethical, professional and legal responsibility to uphold and observe the rule of law, maintain high standard of professional conduct and must not engage in any conduct which is unbecoming of a legal practitioner. See Rule 1 of the RPC, 2007.
In spite of all these, and in violation of the ruling in NBA v. OFOMATA, some lawyers are bent on the practice of using “barrister” as a prefix before their names. This clearly is illustrative and symptomatic of some of the major problems facing the legal profession in Nigeria — unnecessary pride, inappropriate show-off, and excessive obsession with vain titles.
Chrispodiah Emmanuel is a wannabe writer, a social commentator, an advocate for good governance, a farmer, and a 400 Level Law Student with the Taraba State University.