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SUIT NO. SC 24/1962





BEFORE THEIR LORDSHIPS                                 









GOVERNMENT AND ADMINISTRATIVE LAW – PARDON:- Legal practitioner convicted of a crime and struck off the Roll of practicing lawyers – Subsequent grant of pardon by Administrator of the East-Central State to become a member of the ordinary citizenry – Whether relevant consideration in reviewing his application for readmission as a member of the Nigerian Bar

ETHICS – LEGAL PRACTITIONER:- Application for re-instatement of a Legal practitioner on the Roll of Legal Practitioners in Nigeria – Factors considered by court – Where striking off due to conviction for a criminal offence – Grant of free pardon to lawyer- Effect





ELIAS, C.J.N. (Delivering the Judgment of the Court):

On Thursday, November 22, 1973, an application by Alfred Chukwuemeka Abuah for an order of this court to reinstate the applicant’s name on the Roll of Legal Practitioners in Nigeria was, with our permission, argued by Mr. J.A. Cole, counsel for the applicant. Attached to the application is an affidavit in support, reciting the fact that the applicant was called to the Bar on November 25, 1952 by the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn, London, that the applicant was duly admitted to practice as a Banister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria on July 4, 1953, and that he thereafter set up practice as a legal practitioner in the then Eastern Region of Nigeria with Aba as his headquarters until August 8, 1961.


On May 18, 1961, the applicant was charged in the High Court, Abe, along with one of his clerks with offences under Sections 419,467 and 468 of the Criminal Code, the subject-matter of the offences being that the applicant unlawfully obtained and subsequently misappropriated money belonging to one of his clients. He was duly convicted of these offences by Kaine, J., in the High Court, Abe, on May 24, 1961, and was sentenced to a fine of N330 (£165) or six months’ Imprisonment; but he duly paid the fine. In consequence of his conviction, he was suspended from legal practice on August 8, 1961, pending the determination of his appeal to the Federal Supreme Court which, on October 30, 1961, dismissed the appeal. It would seem that no consequential order was made on that date, so that it became necessary for the Supreme Court to order, on April 30, 1962, that the name of the applicant be struck off the Roll of Legal Practitioners in Nigeria.


Some three years later, in 1965, the applicant applied to this court to have his name restored to the Roll of Practising Barristers, but his application was dismissed on January 14, 1966 on the ground that there was insufficient basis for the supplication. Another application was made to this court by the applicant in 1970 asking for re-instatement of his name on the Roll of Practicing Barristers but, again, the application was dismissed by this court on May 21, 1971. On that occasion, this court observed, inter alia, as follows:

“We are not satisfied that sufficient time has elapsed between April 1962 and now having regard to the nature of the offences committed by the applicant to satisfy that he had become a changed man and no facts have been brought to our attention to establish those circumstances which must and have indeed wrought In him the alteration which was necessary.”


As the applicant has purported to bring his application under Section 9(1) (a) of the Legal Practitioners Act, 1962, we set this out as follows:

“9- (1) Where either before or after the passing of this Act the name of any person has been struck off the roll or a person has been or is deemed to have been suspended from practice, he may, subject to the provisions of the following subsection, make an application for the restoration of his name to the roll or the cancellation of the suspension –

(a)     If the striking off or suspension was ordered by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, to that court”


It seems to us that, in an application brought under this section of the Act, the court must In the exercise of its discretion whether or not to order a restoration of the name of an applicant to the Roll of Practicing Barristers bear the following three main factors in mind:

(i)      the gravity of the offence or offences necessitating the striking off of the applicant’s name in the first instance;

(ii)     whether there is sufficient evidence of genuine remorse shown by the applicant in the period between the striking off of his name and the submission of his application for its reinstatement; and

(iii)    whether in all the circumstances of the case the court is satisfied that the applicant has in the Intervening years become a fit and proper person to be reincorporated as a member of the legal profession.


As regards the enormity of the crimes committed by the applicant, there can be little doubt that they constitute gross professional misconduct unworthy of membership of the profession. What the applicant did was to have forged a Power of Attorney which enabled him to withdraw a comparatively small amount the property of an apparently poor client of his, and to have used the money for his own purposes. Although the amount involved is small, the underlying moral turpitude is not. But then, we are bound to ask ourselves whether a lapse of nearly twelve years during which there is evidence that the applicant has been reduced to a state of abject penury and that he has become really penitent should not be regarded as mitigating factors necessitating a measure of sympathetic review of his condition in life, including the sufferings of his family and other dependants. Apart from a temporary employment as secretary to an indigenous firm between 1965 and 1967, the applicant would appear to have had no other work of any kind, and his house and almost all that he had at Asaba, his home town, had either been completely destroyed or looted during the recent civil war.


With reference to the question whether the applicant has shown sufficient remorse warranting a reconsideration of his case, he deposed in his affidavit as follows:

“With the stain and stigma of conviction I have found it absolutely difficult and impossible to obtain any employment in order to support myself and my dependants.”


Probably the most touching part of his affidavit, however, is paragraph 19 which reads as follows:

“I have been and I am still thoroughly ashamed of what has happened and that I truly regret the unfortunate incident and I am truly sorry for my conduct which has plunged me into this my present position. I have from my present experience learnt a great lesson for my future conduct in life.”


We were able to observe the demeanour of the applicant in court, and we think that he is now a broken man who, if given another chance, would not be disposed even again to bring the honour of the profession into question.


More recently, the applicant presented a petition to His Excellency, the Administrator of the East-Central State, asking him to exercise his prerogative of mercy by granting him a free pardon. By the Instrument of Pardon published at Enugu in the East-Central State of Nigeria Official Gazette No. 37 dated September 6, 1973 as East-Central State Notice No. 500, he was granted a free pardon by the Administrator of the East-Central State who said that he did so after reviewing his case.


We consider this to be an important factor evidencing not only the sense of remorse shown by the applicant since his last application, but also the fact that the Administrator of the East-Central State thought he ought to be re-admitted as a member of the ordinary citizenry. It should not, however, be considered that the mere grant of a free pardon automatically entitles an applicant to be reinstated. It is only one of the several factors to be taken into account, and each case must be considered on its own peculiar facts and in the light of its own circumstances. In this particular case, we are of the view that a re-instatement of his name on the Roll of Practicing Barristers would be a step in the direction of his professional rehabilitation.


His prayer in this application is therefore granted. We accordingly order that the name of Alfred Chukwuemeka Abuah be restored to the Roll of Legal Practitioners in Nigeria with effect from the date of this ruling. A copy of this order should be communicated to the Benchers of the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn, London, of which he was a member. A copy of the notice of the restoration of his name to the Roll of Legal Practitioners should be sent to the Chief Registrars of all the High Courts in the Federation for their information and necessary action.


Appeal allowed.


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