A staff of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, was briefly arrested and questioned today by the police in connection with the appeal filed by Ephraim Emeka Ugwuonye.
Mr. Emeka Ugwuonye was sanctioned by the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) on 22nd May, 2017 for violating the rules for conduct of the legal profession in Nigeria.
Section Section 12(1) and (2) of the Legal Practitioners Act, grants the LPDC powers to sanction a lawyer where:
(a) a person whose name is on the roll is judged by the Disciplinary Committee to be guilty of infamous conduct in any professional respect; or
(2) Where a person whose name is on the roll is judged by the disciplinary committee to be guilty of misconduct not amounting to infamous conduct which, in the opinion of the disciplinary committee, is incompatible with the status of a legal practitioner.
The decision stating the Supreme Court confirmation the LPDC sanction against Mr Ugwuonye was conveyed via a letter dated and signed by Gertrude Bary-Nyana Esq. on 24th April 2018 – SEE BELOW
However, Mr Ugwuonye contends that the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court erred in removing his name from the Rolls when there is a pending appeal against the decision of the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee.
“According to Nigerian law, the direction of the LPDC has NO effect and shall not have any effect if an appeal against it was timely filed, and the appeal of the Respondent is pending before the Supreme Court of Nigeria,” Ugwuonye told ElombahNews.
A senior Nigerian lawyer confirms his position.
Mr Ifeanyi Nrialike Esq told this reporter: “When the LPDC strikes out the name of a lawyer, an appeal to the Body of Benchers acts as an automatic bar to the Chief Registrar from striking out until the appeal is determined”
Referring this reporter to Section Section 12(8) of the Legal Practitioners Act, Chapter L11, LFN 2004, Mr Nrialike quoting from the Act stated:
A direction of the disciplinary committee under subsection (1) or subsection (2) of this section shall take effect-
(a) where no appeal under this section is brought against the direction within the time limited for the appeal, on the expiration of that time;
(b) where such an appeal is brought and is withdrawn or struck out for want of prosecution, on the withdrawal or striking out of the appeal;
(c) where such an appeal is brought and is not withdrawn or struck out as aforesaid, if and when the appeal is dismissed, and shall not take effect except in accordance with the foregoing provisions of this subsection.
As seen from the above letter, the LPDC handed out their decision on 22nd May 2017.
That means that according to the Rules, Emeka had 28 days to appeal against the direction of the LPDC, the lawyer said.
Elombahnews investigations reveal that Emeka filed his appeal on 9th June, 2017, which was exactly 18 days after the LPDC decision.
Contacted by ElombahNews, a clerk at the Chief Registrar’s office appeared to deny that Mr Ugwuonye has a pending appeal.
According to the staff, “He failed to send a Notice of Appeal to the office of the Chief Registrar so that she knows about his pending appeal”.
But Emeka Ugwuonye’s lawyers from Eculaw Chambers told ElombahNews that “When the Bar transmitted the record of proceeding to the Supreme Court, a copy of the record was given to Emeka Ugwuonye. To make sure everything was done well, Emeka Ugwuonye went to the Supreme Court and asked for the department of the Supreme Court that could confirm whether the Supreme Court had received the records. Emeka was directed to the receiving section of the Court. There, Emeka met one Sunday Ajah at his desk and asked a simple question. He showed Mr. Ajah a copy of the record he had and asked him to confirm if the record had been sent to the Supreme Court. And Mr. Ajah went and checked and confirmed that indeed the case number was right and that the Supreme Court had the records. Satisfied that the Supreme Court had the case, Emeka Ugwuonye left.”
Upon our Enquiry the staff from the Chief Registrar told ElombahNews that what Emeka confirmed is the record of appeal, which is different from a notice of appeal to be served on the relevant person.
“He failed to send a Notice of Appeal to the office of the Chief Registrar so that she knows about his pending appeal.
“All other lawyers whose names have been struck out have sent notice to the office of the chief registrar. So, if he wanted her to stay action, he ought to have put her on Notice of the pending appeal. In the absence of an appeal, there was nothing else to wait for, and him going around flashing our letter from February claiming that we reinstated his name. It’s just a pity.”
But Emeka Ugwuonye responding to our query said that the appeal is filed at the Body of Benchers.
“That is the only place it is filed. The Body of Benchers transmits it to the Court. I followed the procedure meticulously. We would not have a Supreme Court Appeal number assigned without the process being intact”.
He added that he was 10 days ahead of the deadline.
“Section 12 of the Legal Practitioners Act, which is the governing law, clearly stated that the decision of the LPDC will not have effect if a timely appeal was filed”.
“So by filing a timely appeal on 9th June, the decision of the LPDC did not have any effect and would not have effect until the Supreme Court has decided on the appeal and depending on how it decided the matter.”
Sources at the Supreme Court today confirmed to Elombah News that Mr Ugwuonye’s appeal was indeed filed at the Supreme Court and is pending with Appeal No. SC/986/17 – SEE BELOW
In January of this year, peeved by reports that his name had been struck off the register of lawyers by the Supreme Court, Emeka went back to the Supreme Court on 5th February, demanding a written confirmation of his status.
“That was when Emeka met a lady, Ms. Gertrude B. Bari-Nyana, at the office of the Registrar. Emeka explained everything to the lady – the sanction of the LPDC and the appeal he had pending”, his legal representatives told this reporter.
“The lady advised Emeka to apply for his enrollment status, which he did. The Lady issued him a letter indicating that his name was validly on the roll. With that letter, Emeka was able to show that he not was not struck off the rolls.” – SEE BELOW
“Out of the blues, on the 24th of April, 2018, Ms. Nyana issued a letter stating that Emeka’s name was struck from the rolls of lawyers because he did not file any appeal, which was absolutely false. Worse still, Ms. Bari-Nyana placed her letter and so many personal information of Emeka Ugwuonye on the social media within minutes of signing off on her letter and well before Emeka was to receive a copy of the letter”, Mr Ugwuonye’s lawyers stated.
ElombahNews has been unable to establish who made the complaint that led to the Supreme Court staff grilling or why he was arrested today.
Unsubstantiated reports however allege he was accused of hiding Emeka Ugwuonye’s file from the office of the Registrar. ElombahNews was unable to confirm this allegation.
“He was arrested, but has been released after questioning”, ElombahNews learnt.