In the words of Amy Klobuchar, “We must make our world safer by rooting out the evil in our midst while still protecting the rights of people who mean no harm.”
Last week, we extensively dealt on who can practice in Nigeria, rights of foreign lawyers and the challenges faced by the legal profession in Nigeria today. Today, we shall, continue with our x-ray on the above issue.
What are the challenges faced by the legal profession in Nigeria today? (continues)
Public distrust of the judiciary
Many ordinary citizens and even the elite do not trust the judiciary and only appear in court after all other means such as taking the law into their hands have failed, or when forced by court summons to do so.
This is due to the myriad of problems embattling the judiciary.
I believe that, by applying solutions to the challenges outlined above, public confidence in the Nigerian judiciary will be restored and more citizens will promptly seek redress in the temple of justice.
In conclusion, the judiciary arm of government is responsible for interpreting the laws of the land. This makes the job of the judiciary a very critical one.
The laws of the land constitute the basis upon which judgments are delivered. It is therefore fundamental that their interpreta- tion and application should be performed with absolute alacrity and meticulousness.
What are some of the solutions?
There is a lacuna in the legal profession that has either gone unnoticed, or the Council of Legal Education has not taken keen interest in filling: Soft Skills.
At the Law School, they teach students all the laws and principles required to succeed as a lawyer, but they forget to teach students that they are also humans. They rarely allow room for students to develop intra-personal, inter-personal and extra-personal skills. Given the strategic nature of the legal profession in our society, this oversight has come at a huge cost to our noble profession, with the quality of legal practice plummeting on a daily basis.
These soft skills are crucial to the survival of the noble profession. Not only because today’s lawyers are standing on the shores looking out at a foggy horizon, facing a time completely unprecedented, with their future uncertain and ambiguous, their environment volatile and complex, their world moving rapidly and technology advancing at an alarming rate, but also because the legal profession has its origin from nobility and nobility is rooted in propriety.
More poignantly, the present crop of lawyers being churned out from our various Law schools have demonstrated a want of these competences and as Lord Dening, The Master of the Rolls, puts it, “…the link be- tween success and merit… is forged through soft skills.”
Soft skills such as Empathy, Initiative/ Creativity, Building Bonds, Self-Awareness and Self-Assessment, Communication Skills, Collaboration and Cooperation, Change Catalyst, Leveraging Diversity and Social,
Business and Court Room Etiquettes, to mention but a few, must be introduced if we are to protect the legal profession from extinction, adulteration and infiltration.
Most lawyers cannot stand for long hours during cross examination exercises. Some hardly show ingenuity during litigation. Many sleep in court in the course of proceedings, and generally reveal a want of emotional strength. How many lawyers have missed their matters in court due to poor health? These weaknesses have had a huge impact on the competence and advocacy/litigation of the Bar. Even some of the most brilliant and Senior lawyers are equally culpable.
As often said, “necessity is the mother of invention.”There is a secret to everything in life; in- cluding the survival of the legal profession in trying times such as we are. Continuing legal training is the osmosis of the legal profes- sion and most intelligent lawyers would stop at nothing to gain information that would impact on their legal practice for the better.
There is need for the Nigerian Bar Association to introduce programs targeted to help the legal profession protect itself from extinction, adulteration and infiltration.
Saving the legal profession from adultration and infiltration
Positive role of the NBA
Over the years, perennial problems arising out of the imperfections in the Roll of Legal Practitioners have continued to limit the ability of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, and indeed the Supreme Court of Nigeria to regulate the practice of the profession with a reliable database of members. Some of the problems include wrong spelling of names, non-existent enrolment numbers, change of names through marriage effected by Deed Poll not being reflected in the Roll and some other noticeable defects.
The Lawyers’ Database Committee and the Supreme Court of Nigeria have compiled the names and enrolment numbers of all lawyers called to Bar in Nigeria. In view of the above, the data compiled is now available for verification and updating of information contained therein, in order to ensure that no lawyer enrolled in Nigeria is left out of the database, which serves as a reference database of lawyers duly called to the Nigerian Bar.
To qualify for verification and avoid infiltration of the process by fake lawyers, its mandatory for all legal practitioners to provide the following requirements:
Call to Bar certificate (Original or Photocopy).
Means of Identification (i.e International Passport, Driver’s Licence or National Identity card).
Proof of payment of Bar Practice fees (if paid offline).
Proof of payment of Branch Dues (if paid offline).
Evidence of Change of Name (if any).
NBA’S STAMP AND SEAL POLICY
The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) also determined that with effect from 1st April, 2015, lawyers are required to affix their stamps on legal documents they prepare or endorse, in accordance with Rule 10 of the Nigerian Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007 (NBA n.d.).
The Chief Justice of Nigeria also issued a circular on 12th May, 2015, giving directives for the implementation of the NBA stamps and seals policy. The circular states that “all Heads of Federal and State Courts shall establish procedures for the implementation of the stamp policy and its full utilization within all jurisdiction[s]”.
Similarly, by Rule 10 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, a lawyer acting in his capacity as a legal practitioner, legal office or adviser of any Governmental department or Ministry of any corporation, shall not sign or file a legal document unless there is affixed on any such document a seal and stamp ap- proved by the Nigerian Bar Association.
For the purpose of this rule, “Legal documents” shall include pleadings, affidavits, depositions, applications, instruments, agree- ments, deed letters, memoranda, reports, legal opinions and such similar documents.
If without complying with the require- ments of this rule, a lawyer signs or files any legal documents as defined in sub-rule (2) of this rule, and in any of the capacities mentioned in sub-rule (1), the document so signed or filed shall be deemed not to have been properly signed or filed.
By this, every lawyer is competent to affix the stamp/seal. Lawyers, in salaried employment other than lawyers employed as legal officers in a government department, as well as lawyers in default of payment of annual practising fees who are not entitled to act in the capacity of legal practitioners, legal officers or advisers cannot affix the stamp/seal on legal documents.
Furthermore, it should be noted that the requirement for affixing the stamp/seal only becomes imperative when the lawyer is acting in his capacity as a legal practitioner.
Section 24 of the Nigerian 1975 Legal Practitioners Act, amended in 2004, provides that “’legal practitioner’ means a person entitled in accordance with the provisions of this Act to practise as a Barrister or as a Barrister and Solicitor, either generally or for the purposes of any particular office or proceedings”.
The purpose of the requirements to affix stamp and seal to legal documents in Nigeria is to prevent the practice of law by someone who is not authorised to do so. However, in 2015, the Supreme Court held in Mega Progressive People’s Party v. Independent National Electoral Commission (SC/655/2015) that: “Section 10 of the Legal Practitioners Rules of Professional Conduct relied upon by Dr. Ayeni is directory and NOT mandatory in nature. Failure to affix the Nigerian Bar Association stamp cannot, in my view, invalidate processes filed in a Court of Law.”
The Supreme Court equally held in SENATOR BELLO SARKIN YAKI V. SENATOR ATIKU ABUBAKAR BAGUDU (SC/722/2015), that a document that does not bear the NBA stamp and seal “is deemed not to have been properly signed or filed but not incompetent” and that the “process filed in breach of Rule 10(1) can be saved and its signing and filing regularized by affixing the approved seal and stamp on it”.
The Supreme Court held in the YAKI’S CASE that failure to affix the Nigerian Bar Association stamp and/or seal cannot invalidate processes filed in court or legal documents; it only makes the document voidable. That is to say that such documents are deemed not to have been properly signed and not that they are invalid. See also AD- EWALE V. ADEOLA (2015) LPELR 25972 (CA); TODAY’S CARS LTD V LASACO ASSURANCE PLC (2016) LPELR – A 1260 (CA); MAINSTREET BANK & ORS V. HAMMED (2018) LPELR – 45557 (CA). All these are geared towards protecting the legal profession from adulteration and practice by persons who are not qualified to do so. The NBA is commended in this regard and it is our hope that this is sustained.
The various branches of the NBA are reminded to continue to be on the lookout for fake lawyers who have for many years dented the image of the noble profession. Some practising for over a decades before they are detected.
SAVING THE LEGAL PROFESSION FROM GOING EXTINCT IN THE EVER- CHANGING WORLD
‘The robots are coming’. This is fast becoming the mantra of our age. And it comes with more than a hint of threat. It can be seen that some years now, the phrase has become the go-to headline in the legal news pages when they report on technology in the legal profession.
For our profession – where for thousands of years, trust, diligence and ‘good judgement’ have been watchwords – the idea of Artificial Intelligence ‘replacing’ lawyers continues
to be controversial. From law school and all through our careers, we are taught that the “trusted adviser” is what all good lawyers aspire to become.
The most enduring relationships in the legal profession are the ones where the client feels and believes the lawyer has their back.
The world is speeding up. Globalisation, technological advances, and the Internet of Things all mean there is huge pressure to be quicker, smarter, and more productive.
(To be concluded next week).
Thought for the week
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” (Nelson Mandela)