By Ovie Okpare
The Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) on Sunday reacted to the amended Rules of of Professional Conduct (RPC) for legal practitioners 2007 by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN).
NBA described the newly gazetted RPC for lawyers as illegal as it was done by the Attorney General of the Federation without the knowledge of the General Council of the Bar also known as the “Bar Council”.
Bar Council comprises the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation (“HAGF”), the Honourable Attorneys-General of the thirty-six states of Nigeria, and twenty members of the NBA.
Malami had in a new gazette amended the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007 where he purportedly removed the requirement for the NBA stamp and seal on court processes.
In line with the previous RPC book, membership of the NBA was compulsory for all lawyers and the stamps and seals were sold at N4,000 for 72 pieces and were given upon payment of NBA dues annually.
Accordingly, no lawyers could submit file cases in any of the court in Nigeria without the stamp and seal as a member of the NBA.
The stamp and seal is one of the major sources of revenue for the NBA at the national and local branches.
But with the new amendment by Malami, the use of the stamps is no longer compulsory for a lawyer to file document in the court.
The amendment also implies that persons who are not members of the NBA, including non-lawyers, are allowed to submit court processes.
However, the President of NBA, Olumide Akpata, in a statement on Sunday, said the amendment remains illegal since it does not have the approval of the Bar Council.
Akpata said, “For the avoidance of doubt, the Legal Practitioners Act (as amended) confers the power to issue rules of professional conduct for legal practitioners, and any amendments thereto, on the General Council of the Bar (the “Bar Council”).
“Consequently, the RPC and any amendments thereto may only be validly issued after it has been deliberated upon and approved at a properly convened meeting of the Bar Council.
“As far as the NBA is aware, no notice convening a meeting of the Bar Council was issued to its elected representatives on the Bar Council and no meeting of the Bar Council was convened and/or held to deliberate on the Instrument.
“To that extent, our position is that no authority or approval was given for the amendment of the RPC. Consequently, the NBA maintains that the RPC has not been amended and enjoins all legal practitioners to remain calm and continue to conduct their affairs in the same manner as they did prior to the issuance of the Instrument.”
He, however, disclosed that the NBA national leadership was in touch with AGF, Malami, on the development, promising to give further updates to members on the issue.
“Let me assure our members that I am engaging closely with the HAGF on this issue and will provide further updates on our next steps in the coming days. Indeed, as part of the commitment of the current administration of the NBA towards the welfare and capacity building of members and the overall improvement of the Bar, we intend to propose certain amendments to the RPC that will be critical to the attainment of those objectives.
“However, in doing this, we will ensure to carry our members along with a view to getting their buy-in as critical stakeholders” Akpata added.
According to him, the amended areas are “Rule 9(2), which relates to default in payment of practicing fees; Rule 10, which relates to stamp and seal for legal practitioners; Rule 11, which relates to mandatory continuing professional development.
“Rule 12, which relates to the Annual Practicing Certificate for legal
practitioners; and Rule 13, which relates to the obligation to give notice of the commencement of legal practice to the branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (“NBA”) responsible for the jurisdiction in which the practice is located.
“The explanatory note to the Instrument suggests that it was done to bring the RPC into conformity with the provisions of the Legal Practitioners Act, the Law Officers Act, and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).”