I asked a number of lawyers who frequent our courts, how they view the impeachment of the Chief Justice, and the result of my survey is hardly surprising. Four in one say they abhor the indecent haste in which the indictment to impeach the Chief Magistrate of the land was reached by the House of Representatives.
The President of the local Integrated Bar, has expressed his dismay saying it undermines the independence of the Judiciary, the last bastion of democracy.
In the welter of emotional voices speaking discordantly on this issue, lawyers take an entirely different tack. This is expected because like priests, they stick to the sacraments of legalism, which they alone have the exclusive privilege to speak, and to offer in the altar of justice, presided by the judges who are of their own kind. It is no wonder they are called Members of the Bar, for there is a bar that exclusively separates them from the layman. Lawyers intercede for the cause of their principals, like priests intercede for the faithful. The judge is the high priest who finally decides the conflicting claims following the rigid legalistic liturgies. It stands to reason that judges would suffer pain from the lash of unjust criticism, more so when made by one who is not a member of the bar. Of course criticizing judges is a favorite pastime of the lawyers, but at least they do it in private, (certainly not in front of the judge) akin to an acolyte gossiping about the bishop.
For a lawyer to be a Judge is a different thing. Whereas, as an advocate he could argue pound for pound, fight back, or be on the offensive, as a judge he must remain silent, cold, even passive and detached as demanded by well entrenched tradition and judicial propriety.
Judges are not supposed to defend their own decisions, in the bar of public opinion, and engage in editorializing their views. This makes them vulnerable. But judges are not beyond criticism, in the light of free speech. As I look at the past temperament of the High Court, there were instances when it has disciplined journalists, lawyers and litigants for their undignified, scathing commentaries and criticism viewed as an affront to the dignity of the court.
Somehow this extremely conservative tradition and punitive intolerance of the magistrates seemed to project the image that they are little gods with the power to strike down those who criticize their conduct or their decisions.
The point is, freedom of expression is not absolute and while the court or the magistrate is not beyond criticism, it expects a great modicum of courtesy and moderation.
This in a nutshell is the culture in our courts which need to be understood if one were to intelligently engage in the current public debate.