By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
The Supreme Court, on Friday, nullified the conviction of three lawyers that were tried and found guilty of professional misconduct by the Legal Practitioners’ Disciplinary Committee, LPDC.
The apex court, in three separate unanimous judgements by a five-man panel of Justices led by Justice Mary Odili, said it was satisfied that the lawyers, Mamman A. Waziri, Olayori Muideen and Dr. Osaretin George Izegbuwa, were denied fair hearing by various panels of the LPDC that tried them.
In lead judgements that were delivered by Justice Ejembi Eko, the apex court noted that in all the three appeals, some members of the LPDC panels that entered verdicts against the Appellants, did not attend all the hearing sessions.
It held that it was wrong for such members of the panels to review evidence of witnesses they did not listen to their testimonies.
Justice Eko agreed with the Appellants that the LDPC was inconsistent in the constitution of panels that heard the three cases.
Relying on plethora of decided cases, Justice Eko held that such inconsistency in composition of the LPDC panels, amounted to the denial of the Appellants’ right to fair hearing.
“The issue is whether the Appellant had been denied fair hearing. And, I am the considered opinion that, deciding without hearing is an aspect of denial of fair hearing.
“And, accordingly, I allow the appeal, set aside the directions of the LPDC, following the decisions in Kunle Kalejaiye, Adeigbe Salami Korisimo and a host of others, and particularly on the principle that where a court is differently constituted during the hearing of a case, on various occasions when it met or where one member did not hear evidence, the effect on the proceedings is to render them all null and void”, Justice Eko held in the judgment on the appeal by Izegbuwa.
The apex court therefore ordered that all the cases involving the three lawyer be returned to the LPDC to be tried afresh by new panels.
More so, Justice Eko enjoined the LPDC to limit the number of persons in each of its probe panel to three or four, to prevent the alteration in membership as complained about by the Appellants, which he noted was becoming rampant.
“I noticed that the LPDC panel was rather large and unwieldy for the constancy in attendance and the sitting by all members.
“I should think trimming the LPDC to a panel of between three and four members would achieve a better purpose, considering the recurrence of the same problem,” Justice Eko added.