⦿ CASE SUMMARY OF:
Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) v. Chief Gani Fawehinmi (1985) – SC
Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee
Chief Gani Fawehinmi (1985)
(1985) NWLR (Pt.7) 300;
⦿LEAD JUDGEMENT DELIVERED BY:
Anthony Nnaemezie Aniagolu, JSC
⦿ LAWYERS WHO ADVOCATED
FOR THE APPELLANT
– Chief F.R.A. Williams
FOR THE RESPONDENT
– Chief Gani Fawehinmi,
The proceedings in this appeal relate to a Legal Practitioner who is a Solicitor and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, one Gani Fawehinmi Esq., of 28, Sabiu-Ajose Crescent, Surulere, Lagos, and concerns a professional misconduct allegedly committed by him, in that he engaged himself in “advertising, touting and publicity” by reason of a publication in a weekly newspaper.
The issue which falls now, to be decided in this appeal is not whether or not Chief Gani Fawehinmi (hereinafter simply referred to as “Gani”) committed the alleged misconduct, but the preliminary issue of the competence of the individuals scheduled to adjudicate on the matter under the Legal Practitioners Act 1975, to hear it, having regard to the principles of natural justice, particularly the principles of natural justice which forbid a person to be an accuser as well as the judge at the same time in a case, and the [same] one which demands fairness in the prosecution of a person accused.
As it turned out, after the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (hereinafter referred to as the “L.P.D.C”) had put up and served the two charges under section 10(1)(a) of the Legal Practioners Act, 1975, Gani preempted the proceedings and, obviously quia timet, filed an ex-parte motion, seeking for an order nisi of prohibition, for the High Court to stop the L.P.D.C., as constituted, from proceeding with the hearing of the matter. This is the matter with which this Court is concerned, in this appeal for the meantime.
Gani Fawehinmi challenged the impartiality of committee that is to adjudicate the matter before the High Court. He averred that the A.G of Federation who is his accuser, is also the president (Chief Judge) of the said committee, and that such formation was against the principle of fair hearing guaranteed by S.33(1) of the Constitution Federal Republic of Nigeria 1979.
Gani Fawehinmi won at the High Court, it was C.A Johnson, J, who gave the judgement. L.P.D.C further appealed the High Court’s decision to the Court of Appeal, yet the Court of Appeal dismissed their appeal, and now they have appealed before the Supreme Court.
Whether the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee, having regard to its duties, is a Tribunal which falls within the provision of section 33(1) of the Constitution or that which is envisaged by section 33(2) of the Constitution.
Judgement was given in favour of Chief Gani Fawehinmi.
Below are the Justice dicta.
It goes without saying that the Disciplinary Committee is a Tribunal created by a Statute, namely the Legal Practitioners Act, 1975, and therefore is a statutory tribunal. But whether it is a quasi-judicial tribunal as contended by Gani, or merely an Administering Authority as contemplated by section 33(2) as postulated by Chief Williams, is the bone of contention;
Legal Practitioners Act, 1975 and the one of 1962 before it, were designed to regulate the practice of the legal profession in Nigeria and to govern the conduct of members of the Bar. The Justices of the Supreme Court who exercise the highest judicial functions of the country, the members of the Appeal Committee of the Body of Benchers, the members of the Body of Benchers, the members of the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee, the lawyer whose conduct is questioned before that committee are all members of the Legal Profession. They are all Ministers in the Temple of Justice;
They propound and profess the principles of justice and the Rule of Law; and they protect and defend the rights of the citizens against arbitrary encroachment from any’ quarters. Surely, the tribunal in which they sit to determine the propriety or otherwise of the conduct of one of its members in a professional capacity, cannot be anything less than quasi-judicial.;
I am therefore more inclined to think that in the premises, the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee while discharging its duties under sections 9 and 10 of the Legal Practitioners Act, 1975, must be deemed to be a quasi-judicial Tribunal which in the discharge of those duties, must act judicially;
In the instant appeal, the civil rights and obligations of a legal practitioner in relation to his conduct in the practice of that profession are called in for questioning and determination by the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee. Section 33(1) of the Constitution, in my view, applies to the proceedings in that determination, and the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee comes in as a “tribunal” envisaged by that sub-section of S.33 in those proceedings.
S.33(1)(2) Constitution Federal Republic of Nigeria 1979;
Legal Practitioners Act, No.15 of 1975;
⦿ SOME PROVISIONS
⦿ NOTABLE DICTA
It is the accepted law that basic procedural and other requirements of the rules of natural justice have to be observed by every tribunal or authority which is under a duty to act judicially. In MARAN DANA MOSQUE (BOARD OF TRUSTEES) v. BADI-UD-DIN MAHMUD & Anr. (1966) 1 ALL E.R. 545 at 550 P.C. a Minister was said by the Privy Council to be acting in a judicial or quasi-judicial capacity in satisfying himself whether there had been a contravention in respect of an Islamic College, and must therefore observe the rules of natural justice. The same Court in ATTORNEY-GENERAL v. RYAN (1980) 2 W.L.R. 143 held that a Minister in Bahamas, who under section 7 of the Bahaman Nationality Act 1973, had power to refuse an application for registration, was a person having legal authority to determine a question affecting the rights of individuals and, therefore, was bound to observe the principles of natural justice when exercising that authority. – Anthony Nnaemezie Aniagolu, JSC. L.P.D.C v. Chief Gani Fawehinmi
It goes without saying that in the exercise of its disciplinary authority over erring legal practitioners, the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee, must observe the rules of natural justice. In that context, not only must it not be biased against a legal practitioner whose conduct is being questioned, but also it must not place itself in a position in which it may appear that there is a real likelihood of bias. – Anthony Nnaemezie Aniagolu, JSC. L.P.D.C v. Chief Gani Fawehinmi
What then vests judicial powers in a statutory body? First there are statutory bodies that go by a generic name “Tribunal”. A tribunal is not necessarily a court of law stricto sensu but it has been a practice in common law countries to create independent statutory tribunals whose function is judicial. They are often called administrative tribunals but then they have judicial powers as they perform judicial or quasi judicial functions. The reasons for the creation of this type of tribunals might be stated positively as showing a greater suitability of such tribunals because of their expertise or if stated negatively, it reveals the inadequacy of the ordinary courts to cope with the varied challenges. They are cheaper and more speedy in their approach. They are more flexible and more informal than ordinary courts. – Obaseki, JSC. L.P.D.C v. Chief Gani Fawehinmi (1985)
It is important to recognise that when the law confers on an authority or committee or body of persons, the power or the duty to make a determination affecting the rights of individuals, it is presumed that that power should be exercised judicially and in accordance with, the rules of natural justice. – Oputa, JSC. L.P.D.C v. Chief Gani Fawehinmi (1985)
The debate over what constitutes a judicial tribunal, a quasi judicial tribunal, a domestic tribunal, a tribunal simpliciter, arbitrament, arbitral proceedings, forum competent etc. will certainly go on as an academic exercise; but once a body of persons by whatever name called are invested with authority to hear and determine particular issues or disputes either by consent of the disputants or by an order [of] court, or by the provision of a Statute, such a body will be required to carry out it function with that fairness and impartiality which the rules of natural justice dictate. – Oputa, JSC. L.P.D.C v. Chief Gani Fawehinmi (1985)