|Mike Ozekhome SAN
Civilian lawyers practicing in Nigerian courts-martial have been ordered to wear robe and wig even if the presiding officer wears a military uniform rather than a robe and wig. Details here. It seems to be a big deal and has the Nigerian bar highly exercised (excerpt):
Conventionally, Nigerian lawyers appearing before judges that are themselves not robed are not required to dress in wigs and gowns.
Usually, only judges from High Court and above are robed. As such, lawyers appearing before them are required to be robed.
The Legal Practitioners Act currently specifies how and when lawyers are to dress in wigs and gowns. The military court-martial, which is the equivalent of a tribunal, falls below the category that requires full regalia for lawyers.
“If the special court-martial is presided by an equally robed military lawyer- officer presiding, then it is all well and proper, for lawyers to be robed in appearing before him,” Mike Ozekhome, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria said. “If, however, he wears his usual professional military uniform, then it becomes infra dig and abominable for a fully robed professional lawyer to appear and take a bow before a khaki-wearing military officer.”
The latter scenario is what the army has ordered and Mr. Ozekhome says it will be demeaning, “and a great insult to the revered legal profession”.
“It’s [a]kin to requiring a reverend father wearing his priestly cassock to take a bow before a Chief Priest who wears no such cassock, but his “Dibia” regalia, in his shrine.
That is absolutely not acceptable.” he added.
Jibrin Okutepa, another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, called for a total boycott of the order.
“Such directive is to say the least, unconstitutional, illegal and should be ignored,” he said.
He argued that the Army Chief’s order is inconsistent with the Legal Practitioners Act.
“The LPA allows lawyers to dress in robes in High Courts, Courts of Appeal and Customary Courts of Appeal, where the presiding officers are robed. If they are not robed, you cannot be robed for a person who is not robed.”Editor's prediction: the Bar will win this one.