Some lawyers on Thursday in Lagos called for enhancement of free (probono) legal services in the interest of financially indigent defendants and justice administration.
They told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that free legal representation for indigent defendants would also decongest prisons and courtrooms.
The lawyers also urged free legal aid organisations and groups to avoid deceit and ensure that their services would be truly free.
Mr Spurgeon Ataene, Managing Partner of Spurgeon Ataene & Co. Legal Practitioners, urged governments to make adequate funds available to such organisations and groups to boost their activities.
“What we see is that those who offer free services often tell their clients that they only charge filing fees and transportation fares but these so called ancillary charges sometimes actually pose a burden to the defendants.
“Some even claim to do probono and prepare certified true copies of cases they handle, and then approach international organisations and other bodies to support them financially; these donations are not accounted for,” he claimed.
According to Ataene, governments can eradicate or minimise the `hypocrisy’ by regulating filing fees and making more funds available for lawyers in the Legal Aid Council, Office of Public Defender (OPD) and other organisations.
“Let us assume counsel announces himself as doing a probono brief for a client in court; how can the court monitor such a lawyer to ensure that he does not demand any legal fees later?
“The truth is that no lawyer does any matter free; if it is so, how will he take care of his family?” he asked.
Mr Ayotunde Ologe of the Synergy Solicitors hailed the contributions of free legal service organisations such as the Legal Aid Council, OPD and private organisations such as the Justice Development and Peace Commission.
He said that they had contributed much to justice delivery by lending voices to the fight for the interest of the financially indigent who would not afford the services of a lawyer.
“I have seen cases in which lawyers from the Office of Public Defender successfully got acquittal for indigent accused persons, and also helped widows and estranged spouses to recover their children and property,” he said.
He, however, said that there was the need to fund them more, train and re-train their workers and create public awareness on their services.
A social critic, Mr Emenike Nnoromlele, also called for improved activities of such organisations which, he said, played key roles in the justice sector.
“I think they have done well to a great extent but there is need for improvement.
“A number of people need to be aware of the services of these organisations, the nature of their services and modalities for qualification for the services, as well as their locations.
“They need to be more visible by improving on their public awareness drive.
“They should be adequately funded to provide lawyers who will be keen to provide the legal services required.
“Governments must also provide the requisite training for the lawyers to keep them fully abreast of developments,” he said.
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