Friday, April 11, 2014
HARRISON J: SITTING ON A SHAKY BENCH
February 26th 2013 was a Tuesday. A day before then saw a High court judge of Lagos State, Ibironke Harrison (Mrs.) in a prayerful mood. She and some trusted friends of her were on a fast as they offered supplicatory prayers on milady behalf to the ‘Almighty God’ the ‘El-Shaddai, the Ancient of Days etc
The cause for the special prayers was simple - the learned judge has a pending case before the Body of Benchers Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee, to wit BB/LPDC/104/ NBA V I.O Harrison slated for hearing on the 26th February.
Earlier, on January 24 2013, the Disciplinary Committee had announced, as it were, to the whole world in a Punch Newspaper advertisement of the pendency of the case against certain legal practitioners. The judge’s name was included. (See Cover Story “Exhibit”).
Thus it was a case of a judge trying other people, now being placed on trial. But why was the honourable judge (appointed 2009) on trial before the ‘dreaded’ Disciplinary Committee of the Body of Benchers?
It would now be recalled that in her Vol. 9 No.35 13th of July 2009 the Squib published a story entitled: The #120, Million Question: Is Ronke Harrison fit for the Bench? (See Cover Story “Exhibits”)
The gist of the story is that one Mrs. Ibironke Olatunbosun Harrison (as she was) a short-listed candidate for appointment onto the Lagos State High Court Bench was alleged to have sold the property of a client without authorization pocketed the proceeds and was forced to cough out the purchase price of #117,500,000.00 million naira back to the purchaser when the owner of the property refused to grant the purchaser the possession of same.
In the course of ‘vomiting’ the purchase price, Mrs. Harrison was arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and at a time (November 25th 2008) had to make an undertaking in her own hand writing to refund the balance of 28 million naira being outstanding balance to the purchase price to the owner
It was in the middle of all her troubles with her client and the EFFC that Mrs. Harrison applied to be made a judge in Lagos State. Sadly despite the fact that the appointing authorities were made aware by the Bar that candidate Harrison had disciplinary issues before the Bar’s Disciplinary Committee, they went ahead to put her on the Bench.
However if it was thought that the judicial appointment of the lady had effectively stopped her investigation and eventual prosecution by the Nigerian Bar Association for alleged professional misconduct that hope was dashed and thoroughly so on February 27th 2013
On the said date, the Body of benchers Disciplinary committee decided a motion, a preliminary Objection, brought by Justice Harrison’s counsel O. Adesina SAN against the charge against her.
The pith of Adesina’s argument simply is that the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee is only competent to try members of the Bar (legal practitioners) and not members of the Bench (judge) such as her client, Ibironke Harrison.J of the Lagos State Judiciary. In opposing the motion Jibrin Okutepa SAN amongst other things submitted that Adesina’s arguments were untenable in law and misconceived in that a judge is first and foremost a legal practitioners and remains so, by professional qualification, even when appointed a judge and as such Harrison J. is proper subject, for trial before the Body of Benchers Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee once the disciplinary Committee of the N.B.A in considering the petition against her finds a ‘prima facie’ case against her and referred her matter before the BOBLPDC.
The Joseph Daudu (SAN) led Body of Benchers Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee after listening to the silks, in no uncertain terms accepted Okutepa’s position and dismissed Justice Harrison’s preliminary objection as lacking in merit.
According to the Committee, not only is Harrison a legal practitioner still, despite her judicial appointment, the alleged acts of professional misconduct complained about her were done in her capacity as a legal practitioner and not in her office as a judicial officer. The Committee thereafter adjourned hearing in the matter to March 25th 2013 fore Hearing.
Squib investigations reveals a certain disquiet in the ranks of keen observers of the Lagos Judiciary over the Justice Ibironke Harrison’s trial before the BOBLPDC
Many contend that it is highly embarrassing and anomalous that a high court judge an ‘honourable justice, is standing trial before the disciplinary body of her profession. Such a judge, it is opined, for the sake of her integrity, peace of mind and the corporate and institutional reputation of the judiciary should be on suspension from office in the pendency of her trial, which should be given accelerated hearing. Said a commentator
“It is a highly abnormal and troubling situation for a sitting judge to be on trial elsewhere, for professional misconduct. In what light will any reasonable and serious minded individual who have a matter before such a judge, view the judge? A judge should not only be a man of honour and integrity he must always be seen in that light”.
Another observer raised the following queries-“What happens to the cases, Justice Harrison is handling, if at the end of the day the prosecution succeeds in proving the charge against her and she is sanctioned”?
Even how does any one expect a judge in Justice Harrison’s shoes to carry out her duties diligently, considering the enormous emotional burden her trial before the disciplinary Committee places on her? Then what of the awkwardness of being a ‘Milady’ in Lagos but a ‘Defendant’ in Abuja?
Questions, questions, questions ……. All begging for answers.