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Role of lawyers in the legal system



The statement, “A lawyer is and must ever be the high priest at the shrine of justice”, a religious metaphor, reflects the view of the lawyer’s special role on the administration of justice as contemplated by the American Bar Association in the first national code of legal ethics in the USA. The religious metaphor was developed in the context of viewing Courts as the ‘shrines of justice’, and lawyers as the ministers of the “courts of justice robed in the priestly garments of truth, honor and integrity”. Even in a secular context, the statement still captures the essence of the role of an advocate in the mechanism of administration of justice in the society.

Scales of Law

Scales of Law

At the outset, it is necessary to appreciate the role an advocate plays in the society. The development of lawyers as a class of professionals can be attributed to the need for trained persons who can form the competent interface to facilitate the interaction between the lay persons and the judiciary. This involves providing legal advice in matters of rights, liberties or property of the client within the framework of legislative and legal rights, and representing the client in the event of a dispute before an adjudicatory body. In fact, if law is viewed as a ‘public good’ which is frequently technical and not self-executing, meaningful access to law requires the assistance of a lawyer. Particularly, in most jurisdictions, the members of the legal profession are conferred the status of privileged members of the community, and occupies an exclusive domain with the privilege of pleading and acting on behalf of suitors being restricted only to enrolled advocates and attorneys. This monopolistic character of the legal profession entails certain high traditions which its members are expected to upkeep and uphold. Therefore, the lawyer plays an indispensible role in the mechanism of administration of justice.
However, the lawyer has a particularly onerous and multi-dimensional role to fulfill. As expressed by Mathew, J., “A Counsel has a tripartite relationship: one with the public, another with the court, and the third with his client. That is a unique feature. Other professions or callings may include one or two of these relationships but no other has the triple duty.”[1] The satisfaction of the obligations and expectations arising out of these three relationships are frequently difficult to reconcile. The role of the advocate in these three capacities requires a closer scrutiny.
The lawyer, as a professional, to some extent, acts on behalf of the client, and representing the client. This is particularly relevant in an adversarial system of adjudication followed by common law countries which is characterized by a neutral adjudicating authority, which, on the basis of the arguments and evidence placed before it, arrives at a conclusion. The role of an advocate in an adversarial system, therefore, is to represent the case of the client before the adjudicating authority.
As a professional, the functional role of an advocate, in essence, is comparable to that of a legal technician. An advocate is specially trained in the technical profession of ‘law’, and with his grasp over the subject matter; professional function consists largely of providing counsel for clients about how to escape or mitigate the incidence of the law’s obligations, availing of the loopholes and the ambiguities of law. An advocate is essentially an adviser to his client. The contractual arrangement creates an obligation on the part of the advocate to offer sound legal service, and place before the court all that can fairly and reasonably be submitted on behalf of his client. The oft-quoted comment of Lord Reid in the celebrated case of Rondel v. Wo¬¬rley succinctly conveys the essence of the duty of an advocate towards his client: “Every counsel has the duty to his client fearlessly to raise every issue, advance every argument, and ask every question, however distasteful, which he thinks will help his client’s case”.[2] More importantly, he should not let his personal opinion, or considerations of unpleasant consequences or reactions that he may expect to face in the performance of his duty towards his client affect the quality of services he provides to the client.
At the same time, it would be erroneous to view an advocate as merely a professional – that would lead to the risk of degenerating the legal profession into a trade or mere sordid pursuit for livelihood and accumulation of wealth, with professionals indulging in “briefs merchandise”.[3] It must be clarified that an advocate is obligated to act so as to protect and uphold the interest of his client by all fair and honorable means. As has been frequently emphasized, he also acts in the capacity of an officer of the Court. The role of advocates as officers of the Court is to assist the Court in the administration of justice. Lawyers collect materials relating to a case and thereby assist the Court in arriving at a correct judgment. Furthermore, being a responsible officer of the court and an important adjunct of the administration of justice, the lawyer also owes a duty to the court as well as the opposite side. [4] The Bar and the Bench constitutes the two wheels of the carriage of justice. The success of the judicial process often depends on the services of the legal profession. The function of both the Bar and the Bench in an adversarial system of dispute resolution are clearly made out, and the need for a dynamic relationship of co-operation between the two is acute. Advocates, as members of the Bar and officers of the Court, have the responsibility of ‘keeping the stream of justice pure and unsullied’ so also to enable it to administer justice fairly and to the satisfaction of all concerned. [5] This involves two aspects – firstly, to uphold the dignity of the judicial office and maintain a respectful attitude towards the Court, and secondly, to ensure that under no circumstance, any illegal or improper means is used to mislead the Court.
The primary duty of the lawyer is to inform the court as to the law and facts of the case and to aid the Court to do justice by arriving at correct conclusion. Since the court acts on the basis of what is presented by the advocates, the advocates are under the obligation to be absolutely fair to the Court. All statements should be accurate, and the advocate is under a sacrosanct obligation to ensure that he does not, through any act or omission lead to the possibility of misrepresentation, or mislead the court or obfuscate the case in any manner. Good and strong advocacy by the counsel is thus necessary for the good administration of justice. [6] What is imperative to be borne in mind is that the legal profession cannot be considered like any other profession, or trade or business. It is a noble profession, which is intended to serve the cause of ‘justice’. The difference between the legal profession and other professions lies in the fact that what lawyers do affects not only an individual but the administration of justice which is the foundation of the civilized society. [7] As observed, the advocate owes a duty to his client in the capacity of a professional, and towards the Court in the capacity of an officer and the friend of the Court. However, this may and often does lead to a conflict. In cases of conflict, as far as possible, the advocate tries to balance his competing obligations. However where the conflict is irreconcilable, as an officer of the court concerned in the administration of justice, he has an overriding duty to the court, to the standards of his profession, and to the public. [8] the most frequently quoted observation capturing the essence is the statement of Lord Denning: “It is a mistake to suppose that he is the mouth piece of his client to say what he wants: or his tool to do what he directs. He is none of these things. He owes allegiance to a higher cause. It is the cause of truth and justice.” It follows from this, that an advocate is under an obligation to ensure that he does not consciously misstate the facts or knowingly conceal the truth. He has the duty to present before the Court a fair picture of the case of his client to help the Court to arrive at a judgment in the dispute. This includes producing all the relevant authorities, even those that are against him. He should not shy from producing all the relevant documents, even those that are fatal to his case. In case of conflict between the most specific instructions of his client and is duty to the court, the latter takes precedence. [9] This imperative stems not from a code of law, but a higher code of honor, which, if disregarded, offends not only the rules of the profession, but strikes at the heart of the confidence of the public in the judicial system itself. As it was observed in Dhananjay Sharma v. State of Haryana, “such conduct … has the tendency to shake public confidence in the judicial institution because the very structure of an ordered life is put at stake.”[10] If people lose confidence in the profession on account of the deviant ways of some of its members, it is not only the profession which will suffer but also the administration of justice as a whole. [11] It is for this reason, that the role of an advocate as a professional has to be examined in light of the role of an advocate as an officer of the Court, and the obligations of an advocate as an officer of the Court are paramount.

The role of advocates in the administration of justice, and the tension between the role of the advocate as a professional vis-à-vis as an officer of the Court can be understood best in light of the role of an advocate in the society. ‘Justice’ is the cornerstone in a democratic society characterized by the rule of law. In an adversarial system, the advocate could be described, to some extent, as a minister of justice. [12]

The public impact of the legal profession can be gauged by the observation by the Supreme Court in All India Judges Association v. Union of India, wherein it was expressed that the administration of justice and the part to be played by the advocates in the system must be looked into from the point of view of litigant public and the right to life and liberty guaranteed under Article 21 and right to grant legal aid as contemplated under Article 39A of the Constitution. The aspect of the advocate as a public servant is closely tied to the fact key role he plays in the developmental and dispute-processing activities and, above all, “in the building up of a just society and constitutional order.”[13] Being the custodian of the monopolistic power statutorily granted by the nation, the lawyer is obligated to rise to the expectations of him in being a member of the society worthy of confidence of the community in him as a vehicle of social justice.

Viewed in this context, it can be said that the lawyer is indeed the channel through which the general public can access the law, and avail of the protection of the law, in the shrine of justice.

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  • Muhimbo Edward, Makerere Univ.

    this is an inspiring piece of work and i now know that come tomorrow in my legal methods exam i will triumph!

  • Liz Corie

    awesome article

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