As The Court Pleases, By Ikechukwu Nnaemeka
“As the Court pleases” is a very common phrase amongst lawyers who appear in court proceedings in Nigeria, however humble the court’s jurisdiction.
What these lawyers mean when they blurt out this phrase depends on the particular circumstances of its usage. For instance, where the Court gives a Ruling or delivers a Judgment which agrees with the position of a lawyer over that of his opponent, the lawyer whose views had been upheld harps out, usually loudly, “as the court pleases!”, meaning “exactly”,“correct” or “never mind the nonsense submitted by the opposing counsel”.
On the other hand, the opposing lawyer whose argument has been dismissed would say his “as the court pleases” with an air of resignation, as if to say, “I am helpless, I can do nothing” or “It is your Court, so you can do whatever you like.”
A third meaning of this phrase is observable when the Court advises the counsel on a direction to follow in the proceeding before the court, the Lawyers say their “As the Court Pleases” with enthusiasm punctuating every sentence of the judge meaning that “we will take that advice or we will do as the Court directed.
The phrase, “as the Court pleases”, is one of the first and easiest court legalese any new lawyer learns and says in a very short time as it is a no risk, no-thinking-required, automatic statement. It is not in any Rules of Court or Practice Direction and certainly not found in the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners. It is simply a traditional axiomatic expression which most lawyers believe is respectful or courteous to the Judge.
But really is it true that the court can do as it pleases? What does the phrase mean? What does it connote?
“As the Court Pleases” literally means that the Court, represented by the Judge, Magistrate, or Chairman of Tribunal (the Court ) can do whatever it likes without any guidance as to how it reaches its decisions.
This phrase, as innocuous as it may seem, is loaded with dangerous connotations. For one it connotes that the court can do as it pleases even though it may not be the just thing to do. It also connotes that the Court is all powerful and that every other person appearing before it is infinitely subordinate to it and therefore it can get away with virtually anything as long as it pleases the Court.
These presiding officers are humans and the more they hear this, the more they tend to believe it to be true that they can actually do anything they please in their courtroom and get away with it. This thought pattern is the harbinger of all that is believed to be wrong with the judiciary. From allegations of justices thwarting the ends of justice after receiving bribes, or as a favour to godfathers, ignorantly and arrogantly deciding cases outside the clear provisions of the law and to being shockingly rude to counsel appearing before their courts.
Second, it is trite law that the Court is bound by the Rules of Court, practice directions of the Court and is also required to only interpret the law as it is. Presiding officers in Courts or tribunals are not appointed to adjudicate as they please but as the law provides. Even in limited circumstances where the Court has the discretion to seemingly do as it pleases, the presiding officer is not given a blank cheque. Rather he is to exercise such discretion judicially and judiciously, given the circumstances of the case. Otherwise, the appellate Court would reverse such perverse exercise of discretion. Indeed, in certain circumstances, Judges, particularly of lower courts have decried their helplessness in the face of binding judicial precedent which they must follow even though they would have preferred to decide otherwise.
If lawyers think they need a phrase to either show their agreement with a pronouncement made by a Court of law or as a mark of courtesy to the Court, a more reasonable phrase may be adopted after careful consideration of not just its literal meaning but also of its connotation. Rather than the loose “as the Court pleases” with its ominous connotations, the phrase“As the Court decides”, or “As the Court Sees it”, or such other phrase which shows that although the Court can occasionally but unintentionally err, it is not entitled to recklessly and subjectively decide a case impulsively. The spirit of the law has always been ine if careful objectivity, there is no place for that of reckless subjectivity.
Most lawyers who habitually use this phrase may say that they do not suggest the literal meaning of the phrase, but given that language is the chief tool of the legal profession and preciseness rather than looseness is the hallmark of an astute lawyer, they should always say what they mean and mean what they say. Anything less is unacceptable.
Please, it is not as the Court pleases, it is according to the law.
Ikechukwu Nnaemeka is a legal practitioner in Lagos State.
Phone. No: 08115103401