Ethics and Ethical Behaviour in the SL Legal Profession

4 March 2009 at 07:20 | 1256 views

By Charles Bamikole Carr, LLB (Hons) Law, LLM in Business Law, Academic in Legal Studies: University of Westminster, England.

It was just the other day that I read from a prominent Sierra Leone news Webpage that the Sierra Leone Law School celebrated its 19th Foundation Day, something that I see as a pillar for justice, fairness and equally for good governance not only in the judiciary but also within the other institutions in our blessed country. However, what must be borne in mind on such an august profession is that such a pillar cannot stand strong if the ethics and ethical behaviour of those within the profession are in disrepute.

Even the current Chief Justice Umu Tejan-Jalloh, who is also the Chair of the Council of Legal Education in Sierra Leone, in her speech to the audience at the conference held to mark the celebration of the 19th Foundation Day of the Law School, commented on issues on ethics and ethical behaviour of those within, as well as those about to enter into the legal profession in the country. This shows what concerns she has, unreservedly, on such debatable issues such as the ethics and ethical behaviour of those within the profession.

What the law students and even all the lawyers must not fail to understand and follow is that a good lawyer cannot reason logically if he/she lacks good ethical standards. Thus, it is the combination of such skills as legal reasoning and good ethics in a lawyer that portray that refinement of being a learned person with the standard of education to exercise and practice justice, fairness and equality at all times.

The teaching of strong ethics within the legal profession will enable every lawyer, the students and the professionals, to show respect for themselves, their colleagues and collaborate with each other to promote justice even if it means that their individual client is on the losing end.

As lawyers, they are always on a negotiating path and good negotiating skills are not demonstrated through consistent winning, but through inconsistent winning and losing to maintain fairness.

The Sierra Leone judiciary is now blessed with having a Law School as its support base. This institution must be an incentive of good conduct of the judicial personnel as it transforms on the trainees legal education with ethics in the form of good practices and legal culture.

Good Practices
Judicial personnel must conduct themselves in a manner which maintains the public expectations that the law is no respecter of ignorance. Therefore they are to prepare to lead people within their communities to do what is right and fair and also encouraging support for resolution of disputes by legal means rather than by direct actions.

In all their dealings with the general public and their colleagues the lawyers must conduct themselves with unquestionable ethics and integrity, as that may enable them to perform their fiduciary duties with the highest moral, ethical and professional standards required in all aspects of the law.

Money culture and wealth creation must not be the perception of the students lawyers in their propositions to serve as lawyers in the country, nor must their comportment as lawyers be such that it compromise the “dignity and integrity of the institution’’. Instead, as lawyers, they are to behave in a way that could enable them to build on the lawyer-client relationships to give them full autonomy to act on their individual client’s behalf.

The lawyers must not engage in practices that can damage their professional relationship and trust within the community. Therefore, all lawyers must refrain from nursing personal grievance with their colleagues to the extent that it leads to fisticuffs in the courts, just was the case when one lawyer slapped his colleague during court session.

In the words of Chief Justice Umu Tejan Jalloh, “you, the lawyers, must never allow yourselves to be involved in such unseemly behaviour”. It is obvious that such behavior can loose a lawyer’s means of earning his bread and butter because not only can such conduct be justifiable grounds for the overseeing body of the lawyers to expel such person from the honourable and learned profession but also the community will cease from hiring the service of a lawyer with such an arrogant conduct.

Legal Culture
The lawyers must always remember that the profession values continuous education, integrity, openness, fairness and credibility, all of which are vital strengths to a profession which is seen as a weapon in combating undemocratic practices such as corruption, negligence and inequality.

Every person within the profession must take responsibility to ensure that they are engaging in continuous training to undertake effectively the performance of their role within the state and their obligations to their clients.

The profession must organise various forums to encourage debates on ethical issues and lighten awareness of ethical behaviour within the legal luminaries.

There must exist, amongst the legalese, a professional body responsible for overseeing of ethics in the judiciary and this body must be aiming at strengthening the conducts of all the lawyers within the country. This can be done by constantly reviewing the standards of ethics required from the learned people, inviting trainee lawyers to talk in forums on ethical issues such as: the discipline dealing with amoral conduct within the profession; setting up moral codes and values for the professionals; conforming to the accepted professional standards of conduct within the profession; etc.

The lawyers must be put on challenges by their overseeing body to comply with codes of ethics such as the one set out by the English Law Society for lawyers in England and Wales. Breaches of the codes of ethics by any lawyer must be met with strict disciplines enforced by the overseeing professional body in the country.

Further, every person in the legal profession must create a mind situation in which they are to put themselves in the receiving end as a client to measure up the kind of discipline that may be expected from their lawyer

The public must be encouraged to complain of the behaviour of lawyers as they see them and an ongoing annual survey is to be is process on the ethics-related activities of personnel within the profession.

The legal education planned for the students of the Law School must be based on the concept of philosophical knowledge and judgement in decision making within a profession which values are influenced by ethical behaviour. Thus, giving the trainees the opportunities to understand the acceptable professional behaviour and part with their personal moral in preparation to becoming fully trained legal personnel.

Consequently, the lawyers within the profession must realise that they need to perform their roles with conducts that have ethical implications. So, when faced with such dilemmas, their educational training at the Law School would be at their disposal to enable them to provide some systematic or procedural method for handling facts, the rules and problem solving. Thus, their ability to respond to the professional challenges with the highest ethical standards will give the general public that positive perception of the legal profession which, I am certain, the senior lawyers, like Chief Justice Umu Tejan-Jalloh and Justice Bankole Thompson, are craving to see in existence in the Sierra Leone social environment.

All the senior lawyers are to be encouraged to conduct their practices within the ethical standards established for the profession. This will put all of the lawyers to the ethical test for behaviour. Thus, questioning whether their individual conduct as a lawyer is:

a. legally acceptable;

b. complying with the professional codes and guidelines;

c. in line with their professional values;

d. making them feel comfortable and guilt free;

e. matching with the commitments of being a lawyer;

f. perfectly okay with someone, their client;

g. practised by someone senior in the rank.

In complying with the test for behaviour, as mentioned, the senior/experienced lawyers will become a role model to the trainees, who, in time, will become attuned to the ethics of the profession.

Photo credit: The New Citizen, Freetown.