Interview: Why Lawyers Defend Criminals In Court – Nurudeen Yusuf

Nurudeen Yusuf is the Chairman of the Young Lawyers’ Forum, Ikeja NBA branch. In the first part of this interview with The Gazelle’s DARE OJELADE, he speaks why lawyers take legal briefs from alleged criminals and other issues. Excerpts:
Q: What inform your decision to go into Law?
A: My decision to go into practice of law was born out of my passion to be a practitioner in respect of fighting for the right of the people and I could not have any other platform to have done that other than to study law itself.
 I was student in the University of Ibadan at a point in time. I was not fulfilled as a student of Political Science, so I decided to achieve my dream by going into law to take up the cause of the people.
First and foremost, law generally is not all about making money; it’s about making sure that the society is on its feet. Christopher Shapara Williams said it all on what8 a lawyer should be, “A lawyer shouldn’t just be a business man in the community but someone who must make sure that the society is on the proper track.”
Checking and balancing the government activities and making sure that the freedom of Nigerian people and the people of the world is guaranteed, that is the job of a lawyer more than making money.
Q: The general belief is that lawyers are trained to tell lies and so some people don’t trust lawyers, even the one that is working for them. How will you correct this impression that lawyers are trained to lie?
A: No, it is not true. Lawyers are not trained to lie; they are trained to speak the truth. It is an issue of perception; the client knows the fact while the lawyer knows the law. The judge knows both the law and the fact.
The fact you present to your own lawyer is what he is presenting to the court.  So, if the lawyer is telling lies, in variably the client is telling lies, but the job of the lawyer is to advocate the cause of his client without more.
At times people run to us as lawyers, they come out plain, tell us the truth and they will require you to render a particular service for them to find a way out of the mess that they find themselves. So lawyers don’t tell lies.
Lawyer is doing the job of his client, if your client wants a lawyer to tell lies; it is a matter of choice, but what we do as lawyers is to apply the law to the fact that you are bringing on board and we present it before the court in the best and most appropriate ways.
And as a matter of fact, in our profession too, in the rules of our professional conduct particularly Rule 19 (talks of Confidentiality) when you tell a lawyer something the lawyer is not expected to tell the other person.
It is the soul of our business. Even if you tell your lawyer that you have killed this person, your lawyer is not expected to tell the public but to hold it in high esteem and work to see your freedom. However, every Nigerian, whether you are a liar or a truth sayer, has the right to a lawyer by the provision of Constitution Section 35 Subsection 3,  of his/her choice.
So, if you now retain a lawyer that is going to tell lie for you it is a matter of choice and not the job of a lawyer to tell lie.
Q: One of the things that concern me about the profession of law is the defence of criminals. Lawyers defend armed robbers, kidnappers, looters and all sort of criminals and they say law is a noble profession, how does this add up?
A: Every Nigerian has a fundamental right and not just an ordinary right, an inalienable right; a right that you cannot take away from any person- that you have a right to a lawyer. So, whether you are a criminal or a saint, it is for the prosecution to now ease the burden of proving the case beyond reasonable doubt.
So, if the criminal has a lawyer, that criminal is exercising his constitutional right, it is a matter of constitutional right. In our profession, we have a rule ‘’Cab Rank Rule’’. A lawyer is not expected to reject the brief of anybody to comes to him, either a criminal, kidnapper or anybody except if it conflicts with the lawyer’s own personal interest but a lawyer must do the job to the best of his knowledge to represent his client whether a criminal or not.
Q:  Let’s go to your activities. You are the new Chairman of the Young Lawyers’ Forum of the Ikeja NBA Branch. In a nutshell, what is the Young Lawyers’ Forum about and how is it different from the normal NBA?
A: The Young Lawyers’ Forum was created about fifteen years ago and the intendment of those who created the forum is to take care of the interest of the lawyers within the range of one and seven years post call. It is to the fact that this are a group of people who mostly are neglected.
The forum is to pay special attention to the welfare of young lawyers and career development to see that they are put on the right track to be able to do well when they become senior lawyers.
The forum is a forum of lawyers who are below seven years in practice and the intention for establishing YLF is to take care of the welfare of these young Wigs and set their foot on the right path in the profession so as to cub issues such as charge and bail. These are some of the things that we do, because no lawyer can just go there and get training. Our most concern is career development; we put our people on track. If you have interest in sports law, then we will match you in our mentoring programme with someone who is doing well in the area of sports to see how you can learn from that person and from there establish your own good practice. So that is the main objective of the forum.
Q: The judiciary is the most detached arm of government, the executive and the legislature seem to be two sides of the same coin while the judiciary appears isolated, why is it so?
A: The philosophy behind the judiciary as a whole is to be an unbiased arbiter between two warring parties, and in government these two warring parties are mostly the executive and the legislature.
For the judiciary to get itself right – let me quickly make this point- it is very important that the lawyer and the NBA must get themselves right. This is because the judiciary is a third of the entire society and this is one huge place that is given to the lawyers alone.
So, for judiciary to be in the proper perspective then we need to get the politics and poli-tricks of NBA right. On the issue of judiciary again, as an unbiased arbiter, it is expected to be independent and not to interfere in politics.
 The moment they become involved in politics they may not be able to adjudicate in some matters as they cannot be a judge in their own course.
For the judiciary to be unbiased they have to stay out of politics, and that is why the process of getting people into the judiciary is different from the process of getting people into the executive and the legislature positions. It is the process where you must have been trained; you must have passed through an organised system, you will understand the system and will be elevated to be a judge either of the High Courts, Courts of Appeal, Supreme Court even at the Magistrate Court.
They are people who must have distinguished themselves in the area of practice of law either as a private practitioner or as a law officer in public service. So, the judiciary must continue to remain an outer part of the politics itself for it to maintain the toga of being an unbiased arbiter.
Q: How can journalists and lawyers develop a symbiotic relationship in the course justice dispensation? 
A: There can be nothing better than journalists and lawyers having symbiotic relationship. It should be a compulsory relationship, because in the course of doing their job journalists are harassed and I am one of those who volunteer for fighting for Freedom of Press.
We have taken up cases. All these we have done just to ensure that journalists do not suffer harassment in the course of their jobs. Another point of it is that there is Freedom of Information Act where journalists will be required to do investigative journalism, get documents to do their jobs. But the moment these requests are denied it is for them to go to court and most journalists do not have money to go to court.
So there should be a pool of fund or a trust fund earmarked for fighting the course of Freedom of Information. It is the right that is entrenched in the Constitution; it is the fundamental right under Section 22 of the Constitution, which is a part of the Fundamental Objectives and  Directive Principle of State Policy, meaning what our country should be doing ordinarily.
That’s the meaning of Chapter Two of the Constitution. Lawyers should join journalists to see that the provision Section 22 and Chapter Two is given effect to as the people have the right to information.
Q: The kind of jobs we do, lawyers and journalist always have issues with security, experience threat to lives. We have seen cases where lawyers have been killed, journalists have been murdered, the Ugwus were killed in Anambra. How can we prevent this?
A: It is a question of the NBA and NUJ coming to form a big collaboration and  these professional bodies standing up to their responsibilities. I use to listen to Ralph Akinfeleye, he said that if there is going to be one profession that will be practised in heaven, it’s going to be journalism, because those in the South of Heaven wants to know what is happening to those in the North of the Heaven.
The implication is that information is the oxygen of the society. Without adequate information, there is no society. In fact security thrives on information because they thrive on intelligence and this is what people who are inquisitive can do and these people are found to be journalist. So, what we can do is to make a statement on security of lives and properties in this country and if there is an injury to any member of the two professions, it should be taken up like it affects the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The lives of everyone matter most.  We must uphold the sanctity of our lives.

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