A recent directive by the Chief Judge of Abia State, Justice Onuoha Ogwe to judges in the Abia State Judiciary to deny audience to lawyers without original copies of the new Abia State High Court (Practice and Procedure) Rules, 2021 may cause a fresh rift with Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) branches in the state.

The directive obtained by CITY LAWYER and addressed to Nigerian Bar Association branches in the state noted that “lawyers have refused to purchase the new High Court Rules, while some photocopied the Rules for use in court.”

Dated June 16 and signed by the Chief Registrar of Abia State High Court, Mr. V. C. Okey-Nwokeukwu, the circular warned: “The Hon. Chief Judge directs that as from the date of this letter, any lawyer that appears in our High Court without his copy of the High Court Rules shall not be granted audience.”

CITY LAWYER investigation shows that lawyers in Abia State may be bracing for a battle with the state judiciary over the directive. A senior lawyer who spoke to CITY LAWYER on the controversy said that many lawyers in the state are “agitated” by the directive, adding that they view it as “insulting and degrading.”

He said that while it is inappropriate for lawyers to photocopy the Rules as this may infringe copyright laws, “I can tell you that the directive will be ignored by most lawyers. Also, no judge can enforce that directive. On what basis will they do so? It is not compulsory for any lawyer to go to court with any Rules of court. It is optional. More importantly, it is payment of Bar Practising Fee that accords a lawyer audience in court, not possession of any court rules.”

On his part, the Chairman of NBA Umuahia Branch, Mr. Oliver Amuzie told CITY LAWYER that he is in receipt of the letter, adding that “I am aware that other branch chairmen in the state have just received their copies of the letter.”

He said that the branch chairmen would discuss the matter this weekend with a view to have a common position on it. “I am already reaching out to my brother-chairmen on the issue,” he said. “We have a common platform and we would soon arrive at a resolution on the matter.”

Apart from Umuahia and Aba, the other NBA branches in Abia State are Isiala Ngwa, Ohafia, and Ukwa.

CITY LAWYER gathered that the ongoing boycott of courts by lawyers under the aegis of NBA Aba Branch may not be unconnected with the controversy surrounding the new Rules.

It is recalled that the branch had in a resolution dated 10th June, 2022 and signed by Messrs Bertram Faotu and Chinedu Nwaozuzu, its Chairman and Secretary respectively, ordered its members to boycott the court of Justice C. U. Okoroafor.

The branch leadership said that “the resolution was arrived pursuant to the learned Justice’s continued show of absolute disdain for proper judicial conduct and particularly his blatant refusal to use and or allow lawyers to rely on and or use the Abia State (Practice & procedure) Rules, 2021 in his court on the erroneous premise that there was no High Court Civil Procedure Rules in existence in Abia State.”

CITY LAWYER investigation showed that the jurist had allegedly taken the position that the signing of the Abia State (Practice & procedure) Rules, 2021 was defective, given that it bears the name of the former chief judge of the state.

It was gathered that though the current chief judge had ‘corrected’ the defect through a Practice Direction, Justice Okoroafor does not permit the use of the Rules in his court, leading to a face-off with NBA Aba Branch.

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