The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, Mr. Olumide Akpata has waded into the brewing crisis in the Abia State Judiciary following a directive by the Abia State Chief Judge, Justice Onuoha Ogwe to bar lawyers from its courts.

Justice Ogwe had in a letter to NBA branches in the state informed them of his directive to judges to deny audience to lawyers without original copies of the controversial Abia State High Court (Practice and Procedure) Rules, 2021.

CITY LAWYER gathered from impeccable sources that NBA branches in the state are bracing for a battle with the state chief judge over the directive which a senior lawyer described as “insulting and degrading.”

But apparently to stave off a full-blown face-off with lawyers which may cause total shutdown of the court system, Akpata told CITY LAWYER that he has waded into the matter with a view to reaching a resolution.

Aside from engaging the embattled chief judge on the matter, the NBA President has also directed the chairmen of NBA Umuahia and Aba branches to meet with Justice Ogwe in order to hammer out a win-win solution to the debacle.

Akpata told CITY LAWYER that “I have reached out to the CJ and I have also asked the Chairmen of our Umuahia and Aba Branches to see him today.”

On the position of the NBA on the controversial directive, Akpata said: “This directive really is not tenable and I have told the CJ that much. Firstly, right of audience before a Court cannot be circumscribed except by virtue of clear statutory provisions in this regard. Secondly, in this day and age it is a bit strange to insist that every lawyer must possess a hard copy of the Rules when technology provides us with other alternatives.”

The NBA President was however confident that an amicable resolution would be reached on the face-off, saying: “I am hopeful that the matter will be resolved today after the meeting between the CJ and our Chairmen.”

However, there are strong indications that today’s meeting may not hold due to the weekly sit-at-home in the South East originally ordered by the pro-independence group, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).

When CITY LAWYER contacted the chairman of NBA Umuahia Branch on whether the meeting was underway, he said: “The time of our meeting with the CJ is not yet settled. Today is sit-at-home in the East.”

CITY LAWYER recalls that the chief judge had in the letter observed 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 letter 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.”

But a senior lawyer who practices in the state told CITY LAWYER 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.”

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

CITY LAWYER investigation shows that at least one jurist, Justice C. U. Okoroafor has refused to recognize the new Rules given that it bears the name of the former chief judge of the state as the signatory.

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 which directed its members to boycott Justice Okoroafor’s court, citing “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.”

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