Purported Amendment of Rules of Professional Conduct


Femi Falana, SAN

What is the Need for Stamp and Seal?
Having paid practicing fees, why should Lawyers be made to pay for Stamp and Seal. It is akin to double taxation. As far as I am concerned, it is good riddance to bad rubbish. In dialectics, what has just taken place is called the negation of negation. The NBA is a victim of the impunity it nurtured to grow and develop. I have always opposed the Stamp and Seal, because it was meant to restrict access to the temple of justice.

Why must every court process be stamped by a Lawyer, when litigants have the constitutional right to either appear for themselves or be defended by legal practitioners of their choice. In the second republic, late Professor Ayodele Awojobi, a Mechanical Engineer, was the leading public litigator in the country. As a layman he prepared and argued his own cases from the High Court up to the Supreme Court.
Notwithstanding the stamp and seal requirement, I have had cause to apply to courts to waive payment of filing fees for pro bono cases, under the doctrine of in forma pauperis provided for in the laws establishing our courts.

Illegal Amendment and Impunity
However, I agree with some of my colleagues who have argued that the amendment is illegal, as it was not enacted by the General Council of the Bar. With respect, the argument is rather contradictory, because the NBA was very happy when the 2007 Rules of Professional Conduct were enacted by the then AGF on behalf of the General Council of the Bar without any meeting. That was how every Lawyer was compelled to affix the Stamp and Seal to all processes signed. It had nothing to do with enhancing the quality of justice, but designed to enrich the NBA.

Our colleagues must stop playing the ethnic card of the reactionary elite. Has any Branch in the North, declared support for the NNBA? A few Branches in the North decided to boycott the last NBA conference, in solidarity with Gov El Rufai. None of the four Branches in Kaduna State, boycotted the conference. Did the proponents of conspiracy theories draw any lesson from the principled stand of the Lawyers in Kaduna State?

Instead of fighting impunity oozing out of the office of the AGF, we are accusing the North of a hidden agenda! Years before the appointment of Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN as AGF, the NBA had abandoned the General Council of the Bar. Since nature abhors any vacuum, the incumbent AGF has always usurped and exercised the powers of the Council.
Whereas section 1 (2) of the Legal Practitioners Act provides that the NBA shall have 20 members in the Council. The members of the NBA shall be:

(i) elected to serve on the Bar Council at elections in which all members of the
Association are entitled to vote in such manner as may be provided by the constitution of the Association;
(ii) hold office for such period as may be determined by or under that constitution,
(iii) not less than seven of those persons shall be legal practitioners of not less than ten years’ standing.
Instead of electing the NBA representatives, the then NBA President, Mr.Austin Alegeh, SAN nominated the 20 members in the 2015 AGM. And, without any election whatsoever, the President announced that his nominees had been ratified and “deemed to have been elected”.

Assuming without conceding that they were properly elected, neither the NEC nor the AGM has ever demanded to be briefed about the activities of the Council since 2015. The Council has never met, for over five years. Yet, our representatives claim to be members of the Council. They have no fixed tenure as required by the Legal Practitioners Act. Contrary to the law which prescribes that “not less than seven of those persons shall be legal practitioners of not less than ten years’ standing”, all the 20 members are senior Lawyers of several decades’ standing.

I am saying, without any fear of contradiction, that the General Council of the Bar did not impose the Stamp & Seal on Nigerian lawyers. It was done by the AGF Bayo Ojo, SAN on behalf of the General Council of the Bar in 2007.
It is on record that, following the decision of the Supreme Court to the effect that the law did not require processes filed by Lawyers to have Stamp and Seal affixed on them, the NBA leaders mounted pressure on the Apex Court. Hence, the Court reversed itself, in another judgement.

But, out of sheer negligence, the NBA has been unable to make the Stamp and Seal readily available to Lawyers. Hence, the courts have bent over backwards to accept mere receipts of payment for the Stamp and Seal. Up till now, it has never occurred to the NBA to requisition the meeting of the Council, to ratify the Stamp and Seal.

The General Council of the Bar does not meet. In fact, it has never met since 2015 when the NBA appointed its members in the Council. So, the Council is run by the AGF, with the consent and knowledge of the members and the NBA. But, for the removal of the repeal of the sections relating to the Stamp and Seal, the NBA would have protested the usurpation of the powers of the General Council of the Bar.

The NBA is a victim of the impunity it nurtured to grow and develop. I have always opposed the Stamp and Seal. because it was meant to restrict access to the temple of justice.
In justifying the imposition of the Stamp and Seal, the NBA claims that it has removed fake Lawyers from legal practice. On the contrary, fake Lawyers have remained in business by bribing the system to have their documents stamped. With the virtual collapse of the neocolonial economy coupled with the culture of impunity which permeates the entire society, the country has more fake Lawyers and Doctors than ever before.

Femi Falana, SAN