The Country Director of the Advocacy for Justice and Accountability (AJA), Mr Ogedi Ogu has described “free legal aid” as a privilege, rather than an entitlement of any litigant.
Ogu told newsmen, on Wednesday in Lagos, that free legal aid (a.k.a probono services) must not be misconstrued to mean compulsory duties of lawyers.
He was reacting to misinterpretation by some people that free legal services are a mandatory duty of Nigerian lawyers.
While faulting this perception, Ogu described free legal aid as being an “exgratia service” (favour)
“Pro-bono is not a compulsory legal service but an exgratia service by those who desire to do so.
“Of course, every now and then, lawyers offer pro-bono services in deserving cases.
“But many people tend to abuse pro-bono by even cajoling lawyers to offer it even when they ordinarily do not deserve such services.
“One thing is certain when lawyers offer pro-bono services, such services are cushioned by fees earned from other legal services,” he said.
According to him, it is wrong to expect that lawyers must in every given case, offer such free services.
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“If that were the case, then such a lawyer might as well close shop.”
Ogu also faulted the view that some senior advocates do not offer free services as expected.
He added that probono services were not an entitlement of any litigant.
“It is wrong to argue that senior lawyers, who should take up such services, rather charge exorbitant fees.
“The present economic situation in the country equally affects lawyers just like every other person.
“Therefore, it is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain pro-bono services, even in deserving cases.
“This is because fees must be earned somewhere to sustain such services,” he said.
Ogu, therefore, urged litigants to desist from such assumption, since legal practitioners are also humans with basic needs.
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