- August 17, 2017
- Posted by: Stephen Azubuike
- Category: Case Law Blog
NBA v. Kehinde  11 NWLR (Pt. 1576) 225 at 246-247, paras. G-E, per Tukur, JCA:
“Let me quickly state here that the regulatory functions of the Legal Profession in Nigeria is not bound up in one Body. It is a duty shared by many including: The Body of Benchers established by section 3 of the Legal Practitioners Act, Cap. L.11, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004; General Council of the Bar established by section 1 of the Legal Practitioners Act, Cap. L.11, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004; Nigerian Bar Association recognised by sections 8(3) & 24 of the Legal Practitioners Act, Cap. L.11, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004; Council of Legal Education established by the Legal Education (Consolidation) Act, Cap. L.10, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004; Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee established by section 5(1) of the Legal Practitioners Act, Cap. L.11, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004; Legal Practitioners Remuneration Committee established by section 15(1) of the Legal Practitioners Act, Cap. L.11, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004; Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee established by section 10(1) of the Legal Practitioners Act, Cap. L.11, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004; and the Supreme Court of Nigeria. While some of these bodies have narrow powers, with functions that are sealed in water-tight compartments, others like the Nigerian Bar Association have functions which are interwoven with the functions of others…”
The Respondent, a legal practitioner, sued the Appellant, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), contending that the invitation by the NBA for mandatory or compulsory validation or verification of records of legal practitioners in Nigeria for a fee constitutes an infraction of the statutory role of the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court of Nigeria and the Council of Legal Education.
The NBA failed to defend the action. The trial Court upheld the Respondent’s contention and granted the Respondent the reliefs sought in that regard.
NBA appealed to the Court of Appeal arguing that the Respondent lacked the locus to file the action. This argument was totally discountenanced. The Court held that the Respondent had the standing to sue given that the verification exercise would bring about some costs to the Respondent as a legal practitioner. It baffles me why the NBA would throw up such argument in the first place.
The NBA further argued that the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court and the Council of Legal Education ought to have been joined to the suit. The Court of Appeal rightly disagreed as the NBA is the one whose actions were challenged.
The issue which the Court of Appeal found as the substratum of the appeal however was the complaint of the Respondent that the verification exercise sought to be done by the NBA was not within its powers as same is within the purview of the statutory powers of other regulatory bodies. The Court of Appeal was not persuaded. Tukur, JCA took time to explain his position after making the quoted pronouncement above. His Lordship reasoned:
“The appellant had clearly stated that it worked hand in hand with the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court in carrying out this exercise and neither the Supreme Court nor the other Regulatory Bodies have complained of the alleged usurpation of their roles. The respondent has the liberty of arguing that the exercise is unjust, unnecessary or a duplication of functions, but I do not agree with his assertion that the Nigerian Bar Association lacks the necessary vires to regulate the Profession in these circumstances.”
Notably, he Court of Appeal upturned the decision of the trial Court even though the suit was undefended by NBA. The reason being that even if a suit was undefended, the trial Court has a duty to consider the merits of the action and claims put forward. The Court however described the conduct of the NBA as reprehensible. See page 250 of the report.
While I agree with the reasoning of his Lordship in allowing the appeal, let me add that the issue of verification of legal practitioners is extremely important in this age and time where some persons have been found practising law illegally in Nigeria. Therefore, the NBA in conjunction with other bodies should always take the issue of verification seriously so as to weed out fake lawyers. Sadly, some of them had the guts to even appear at the Supreme Court. The duplication of function in this regard, if at all, is necessary.
However, it is condemnable that the NBA should continue to carry out this verification exercise for a fee. What for? Why turn everything into a money making venture or avenue for exploitation of legal practitioners?