Lay Regulates Learned – A Reflection on the Legal Profession Regulation Bill 2017) (Part One)

Bolaji S. Ramos

“If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable.”

             –Louis Brandeis

The Legal Profession Regulation Council Bill 2017, which is presently before the National Assembly, came with a lot of sweeping provisions, and it has continued to throw a lot of dust in the air. The Bill seeks to control the overall affairs of legal profession, legal education and legal relation in Nigeria. It is an entirely legal profession affair. To achieve its purposes and put itself on the throne of legal regulation in Nigeria, the Bill seeks to repeal existing Acts relating to legal profession, legal practice and legal education in Nigeria. The Acts that are going down upon the passage of this Bill are the Legal Practitioners Act, the Legal Education (Consolidation) Act and the Legal Profession Regulation Act.

 What immediately catches the interest of any reviewer of this Bill is the Legal Profession Regulation Council (LPRC), established under section 3 of the Bill. The LPRC has a wide array of powers, functions and duties under the Bill that are best described as far reaching. As a matter of fact, the life-line of the legal profession, legal practice, legal education and legal regulation in Nigeria will now lie substantially (if not exclusively) in the God-like palms of the LPRC. One should immediately begin to see the LRPC as Zeus upon whose hands , the Olympus of legal profession and practice revolve.

The LPRC has no fewer than eleven (11) committees under it through which some of its legal profession regulatory powers and functions are to be exercised. The Committees are Body of Benchers; Professional Conduct Committee; Legal Services, Ethics and Standards Committee; Remuneration and Welfare Committee; Governance, Risk and Audit Committee; Compliance and Enforcement Committee; Legal Aids and Pro bono Committee; Education and Training Committee; Young Lawyers and Career Committee; Privileges Committee; and Law Reform and Research Committee. In addition, the LPRC has the exclusive powers to appoint all the members of each of the eleven (11) committees

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While it is not out of place to start raising concerns about the seeming excessiveness of the powers of the LPRC, it is somewhat more concerning that the drafters and master-minders of this Bill have without due care included “lay persons” as part of those who are responsible for taking the most importance decisions for  legal practice, legal profession, legal education and legal regulation in Nigeria. In the parlance of the legal profession, lay persons are those who do not have the knowledge of law because they are not lawyers in the first place. Be that as it may, inclusion of lay people in matters exclusively pertaining to the activities, education, regulation and discipline of legal practitioners in Nigeria leaves one with a dazing amazement .Section 4 of the Bill provides for the composition of the LPRC, and it provides that three (3) lay persons shall be part of the members of the LPRC.

One will never think that the day will eventually come when lay persons will form part of the most important professional body regulating legal practice and legal education in Nigeria. It is difficult to reason with the drafters of the Bill in this regard, as this disturbing innovation is not only an aberration but also a painful disrespect to the legal profession and legal practitioners in Nigeria. LPRC is not just one NGO or a department in one ministry whose composition may give room to every dick and harry. The LPRC is proposed to be the apex regulator of legal profession, legal education and legal practice in Nigeria, and we have lay persons as members?

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To bring it home, what this ugly trend means is that lay persons will sit in a room and join those that will make regulations for what is payable as practicing fees; what should amount to professional misconduct; what should be the requirements for licensing law firms; who should be members of the Body of Benchers; what should be chargeable by legal practitioners; the firms that should be given practicing license; the people worthy to be members of the 11 committees etc. As if that was not enough, the Bill in section 23 establishes the Council of Legal Education which shall be responsible for admission and training of qualified law graduates to become lawyers, and in section 24 includes two (2) lay persons as members of the Council of Legal Education.  And by virtue of their inclusion, they are also to take part in all decisions affecting the running of the Nigerian Law School.

As earlier pointed out, a professional body or institution that is responsible for the regulation of the overall affairs of the people in that profession should not be run like a ministry or an NGO that can accommodate lay people or people from different professions. This time-honoured practice remains the same with the medical and dental professions which are the comparable professions with the legal profession. While section 2 of the Medical and Dental Practitioners Act established the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria, section 15 of the Act established a Disciplinary Tribunal. By composition, the members of the Council are twenty-four (24), and all of them are in the medical and dental professions. The same thing is applicable to the Tribunal.  Other comparable bodies such as CITN and ICAN have members of the professions as constituents of their regulatory and disciplinary bodies. But this new Bill has preferred to put the learned under the regulation of the lay.

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Justice Louis Brandeis was right, and I am in full agreement with him, when he said in one of his judgments that “If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable.” It is undesirable to have lay persons as members of the apex regulatory professional body such as the LPRC. It falls short of standards, and it appears to be a mockery and disrespect of the legal profession, legal practice, legal education and legal regulation in Nigeria. The only deserving honour for our dear legal profession and education in respect of this Bill is to take our the provisions allowing lay people to be members of the LPRC.

May the day never come when learned  gentlemen would invite lay men to regulate their conduct.

Bolaji Ramos, Esq.

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