Members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikorodu Chapter, Lagos State, have been urged to get more involved in rendering free legal services to indigent members of the public.
The chairman of the body, Mr. Adebayo Akinlade said that since he assumed office, the practitioners have been working on legal reforms that would bring justice closer to the people in Ikorodu community and beyond. He said some of the reforms were targeted at providing legal access to the vulnerable, whereby lawyers are strategically stationed in the six magistrate courts in Ikorodu.
He explained that the inability of the poor to hire the service of a lawyer when in trouble has led to frequent denial of access to justice. He lamented that the development was a major issue, adding that his colleagues could not afford to fold their arms and watch without acting.
He stated that the association’s intervention has led to prison decongestion in the state, informing that the lawyers recently provided legal representation in the court for inmates in Ikoyi and Kirikiri prisons.
“Apart from visiting prisons, we provided other legal aids and services to detainees, such as legal advice, drafting of legal documents, advocacy, as well as follow-up of their cases. Others are legal and human rights education for inmates in prison and the police duty solicitors’ scheme where we aid the release of unlawful detainees,” Akinlade said.
The chairperson of the Pro Bono committee, Mrs. Odunola Jegede, stated that during the association’s week-long activities, the lawyers carried out legal education and awareness campaigns in the community. She said they sensitised the public to prevent and educate them on laws relating to punishment of gender-based violence.
She said that due to limited funds available to them, taking up many cases have been difficult, and added that most of the free services done so far were sponsored by the members and a few corporate organisations. She called on judges to assist lawyers handling pro bono cases to grant them ex-parte application on human right issues.
“Some of the judges are reluctant towards granting such applications due to restrictions on injunctions from the National Judiciary Council (NJC),” she informed.
More so, Jegede said there were challenges in handling pro bono cases, lamenting that some cases however lacked continuity because only a few lawyers were involved and interested in driving such programmes.
She added that if lawyers all over the country would emulate the reforms they were presently working on, the judicial process would be quickened, and a lot of persons would have access to justice in Nigeria.
She added: “Another challenge is the issue of separation of powers, given the distinct role of each arm of government turning the wheels of a nation. No arm of government should intimidate or lord it over the other as there ought to be separate and independent platforms, as our constitution operates on the principle of checks and balances. The executive should stop making the judiciary succumb to pressure, rather, it should allow for the rule of law to take its course without interference from the executive.
“Under the principle of separation of powers, only the judiciary can set aside its pronouncement,” she stressed.
Also, the chairman, planning committee for the event, Mr. Abimbola Ojedokun stated that some of the programmes of the association take care of access to justice; the NBA and community empowerment, and principles of good governance, among other community-based services.
He stated that it was the role of lawyers to go to court and challenge any injustice meted out to the citizens, including against big corporations who feel untouchable.
“For example, why should consumers pay for services not rendered to them? If every lawyer does one or two pro-bono case per year, the nation will be the better for it. Lawyers should do more litigation for the good of the public, especially now that there are reforms that can impact our society,” he said.
Ojedokun encouraged every lawyer to see every pro bono case as voluntary and not mandatory.
“This development makes it imperative for them to keep exploring innovative ideas, with which they can close that obvious justice gap. The desire to provide access to justice for Ikorodu community, those who need it, would remain the focal point of the association,” he said.