Case for Designating Lawyers as Essential Service Providers during COVID-19 Lockdown

By Raphael Christopher, Senior Member, Nigerian Bar Association

It takes great courage and determination to handle the difficulties and challenges posed to our country Nigeria and to our individual states by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Leadership is a very difficult and thankless job at the best of times but even more difficult leading a great country like Nigeria and our individual states in this Covid era. this is therefore my motivation to continue to pray God’s wisdom be imparted to the leadership of Nigerian Government and the individual states to use to govern wisely and make Nigeria, great, again!

As we know, this Covid-19 pandemic is an international disaster and has claimed over hundreds of thousands lives all over the world and there is no end in sight.

Superpowers and highly developed countries like Germany, Unites States of America, United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Russia, China and many others have terrible experiences to show about the dangers of this virus.

The situation is Nigeria is very different with far fewer confirmed cases and Covid deaths. We are grateful to God and pray that the cases do not rise any further. To keep the incidence of the Covid-19 infections and fatalities very low, the Federal Government and state governors has had to lockdown states and the entire country of Nigeria, resulting in inhabitants of many states being generally confined to their houses with the effect that only those designated as essential service providers can move or operate during the lockdown.

Incidentally pharmacists, doctors, electricity generation/distribution personnel, amongst a few others have been designated as essential service providers.

Unfortunately, legal services especially legal practitioners with ongoing cases at court were not designated as an essential service and legal practitioners were not designated as essential service providers during this lockdown.

I believe with due respect that this is a serious oversight within the strategy of containment of the Covid-19 pandemic

As we know the 1999 constitution which is the supreme law of our land provides for the right to choice of legal practitioner by the citizens of Nigeria.

Further, our democracy is founded on the rule of law. Rule of law implies that people must have access to a court of competent jurisdiction. Therefore citizens who are discovered to be defaulting lockdown orders must be processed through a proper legal or judicial process, to the effect that these citizens will have to exercise their constitutional rights of deciding or appointing the lawyer(s) that will represent them and those legal practitioners so appointed will need to attend court and follow due process of law until the matter is concluded.

Further, and in addition, every citizen who is accused of a criminal offence still will need to be processed through the criminal justice system and will also need to exercise their constitutional rights of choosing their legal representatives.

Further, our constitution provides that the right to fair trial is sacrosanct and part and parcel of efficient administration of justice and any trial already in the court needs legal representatives to attend court and follow the Judge’s directions.

As such, they would need to be able to attend court and attend to their clients as may be necessary.

It would seem that the lockdown appear to be having an inadvertent and unintended impact of being seen as circumventing the judicial process and denying our fellow citizens their constitutional right to choice of counsel, which may be a ground to found an appeal against conviction.

We know that these inalienable constructional rights must be respected and protected even in this lockdown. Although, these are very difficult and frightening times.

Legal representation needs to be appointed for perceived defaulters and they must be allowed unfettered access to their clients and freedom to conduct their representation and defence during the lockdown.

As things stand now, the government may be seen to be the breaching the clear constitutional provisions as contained in chapter 4 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

In view of the above it would be necessary to address this gap in the Federal Government and individual states strategy toward enforcing lockdown and designate legal service as essential service and lawyers as essential service providers so as to enable our fellow citizens exercise their constitutional right to choice of counsel and whichever counsel appointed, free access to their clients and free movement to represent their clients during the pandemic lockdown. Further, Lawyers can be allowed to attend court hearings and other legal meetings.

In the interest of security, I would suggest that any lawyer so designated should be required at any point to prove that they so belong to the Nigerian Bar Association by the production of proof to substantiate the legal service being provided.

In view of the hardships already been experienced by accused persons remanded in custody and in ongoing matters, it would be right that lawyers are designated as essential service providers to enable them represent fellow citizens in the way prescribed by our constitution.

Raphael Christopher is a Senior member of the Nigerian Bar Association, Enugu Branch.


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