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‘Federal High Court judges ‘humiliating’ female lawyers’

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By Robert Egbe

THREE legal practitioners, Dr Chidi Odinkalu, Gloria Ballason and Abiodun Baiyewu, have said the courtroom practice of judges compelling female counsel to indicate whether they are married or single is discriminatory and humiliating.

They said that this practice is common to some justices of the Federal High Court.

The lawyers wrote a letter urging the Federal High Court Chief Judge, Justice John Tsoho, to compel judges to stop the practice.

In their letter, which was copied the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), the lawyers said the judges often insist that a female legal practitioner indicate her gender after announcing her appearance in court.

They wrote: “It has come to our attention and we have independently verified that several judges of the federal high court in different places insist on asking female counsel appearing before them to indicate whether they are married or single.

“They require them to make a mandatory choice between the honorific titles ‘Mrs.’ or ‘Miss’ when they announce themselves in their courts.

“In some cases, female advocates, who balk at being treated in this way run into trouble with conducting their cases, suffer unacceptable bullying from the court or jeering and sniggering from the bar and the court gallery and generally get subjected to indignities entirely unrelated to their abilities or the merits of their advocacy and cases.

“We note that men, who appear in the court, are not at risk of suffering a similar fate.”

The lawyers argued that this treatment had no basis in the rules or the laws applicable to proceedings before the Federal High Court.

According to the letter, treating female lawyers in this manner is inconsistent with the right to personal dignity guaranteed by Section 34(1) of the 1999 constitution as amended.

They also cited Section 42(1) of the constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. They consequently called on the CJ to put an end to this ugly practice of maltreating female lawyers.

The letter said: “Sadly, the treatment of female counsel by these judges of the federal high court violates high constitutional principles, in addition to basic courtesies.

“We are pained that this is coming from a superior court of record that should be at the forefront of the defence of these principles.’’

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