Thinking the Future with Prof: Preparing for The Future Bar – The Objectives of the Legal Profession Regulation Bill

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Prof-Ernest-Ojukwu-SAN
Prof Ernest Ojukwu SAN

Early in the year, NBA President AB Mahmoud, SAN, set up the Legal Profession Regulation Review Committee (LPRRC), chaired by Chief Anthony Idigbe, SAN.

The major terms of reference for the committee were stated as follows:

  1. To review the current regulatory objectives and the regulatory architecture of the legal profession and advise on its suitability to meet the current requirements for a robust, responsive and independent modern legal profession in Nigeria;
  2. To determine on whether the Nigerian Bar Association should retain both its regulatory and representative functions in the legal profession and if so, what necessary measures should be put in place to strengthen these roles and ensure that neither is compromised.

At the inauguration of the Committee on 24th January 2017, President AB Mahmoud, SAN, restated the following:

The recent public concern about the profession has forced many of us to think deeply on the current state of the legal profession and indeed how the profession is being regulated. We realize that there is an urgent need to interrogate the architecture of the regulation. This is imperative if the legal profession in Nigeria is to be raised in sync with current international standards of the regulation of the profession.

The Committee presented its report at the NBA NEC Meeting at Lokoja on 1st June 2017. The report includes a draft bill that repeals the Legal Practitioners Act, and the Legal Education Act. The draft bill is titled, “The Legal Profession Regulation Act”.

At this stage, the draft bill is awaiting the input of members of the legal profession before a final copy is sent to the National Assembly. It is very important to receive as many comments as possible from members of the Bar and the public.

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The Legal Profession Regulation Act is divided into 9 parts:

Part 1- Regulatory objectives and professional principles

Part 2- The Legal Profession Regulation Council of Nigeria

Part3- General Provisions relating to legal practice

Part 4- Council of Legal Education

Part 5- Regulation of Legal Education Providers

Part 6- Legal Education Fund and Investment Fund

Part 7- The Nigerian Law School

Part 8- Repeals, Savings and Transitions

Part 9- Interpretation

Before the Committee’s final report, its Current State Subcommittee chaired by Mrs Funke Adekoya, SAN, had submitted a report that identified a missing gap in the regulatory objectives for the legal profession. In the words of the Current State sub-committee,

Although both the structure and the legislation relevant to the regulation of the legal profession establish various bodies which comprise the regulatory architecture by which the objectives of properly regulating the legal profession are to be implemented, apart from the Constitution of the Nigerian Bar Association, there are no clear objectives specified in the laws creating these bodies. Any review/re-enactment of the laws or the architecture that regulate the legal profession is advised to provide regulatory objectives for such bodies, in order to guide them in fulfilling their roles and objectives.

So for the first time in the history of the legal profession, the proposed bill now has robust regulatory objectives and professional principles captured as sections 1 and 2 of the draft respectively.

The regulatory objectives of this Bill includes, to –

  • maintain public confidence in the provision of legal services;
  • promote and protect public and consumers interest;
  • promote the rule of law and improve access to justice;
  • recognize and preserve the status of the legal profession
  • ensure the independence, integrity and honour of members of the legal profession;
  • increase public understanding of the citizen’s legal rights and duties;
  • encourage an independent, strong, diverse and effective legal profession;
  • establish and maintain standards for the continued education, competence and responsibility of members of the legal profession and notaries public; and
  • promote transparency, proportionality and efficiency in the regulation of the legal profession.
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The Professional Principles are:

Every legal practitioner must comply with the following obligations:

  • uphold the rule of law and to facilitate the administration of justice in Nigeria;
  • act with independence and integrity;
  • maintain proper standards of work;
  • act in the best interest of their clients as well as administration of justice;
  • comply with his or her duty to the court or any other law,
  • act with independence in the interest of justice; and
  • keep the affairs of clients confidential.

Presiden AB Mahmoud, SAN at the inauguration of the LPRRC identified the following as the problem:

There have been growing concerns over the past decade or so about the falling standards in the legal profession. These concerns have been expressed among the Bench, Bar, and also by public. Areas of concern have included, low admission requirements, a sharp decline in the quality of legal education, and deteriorating standards of professional ethics. We have high rates of unauthorized practice of law, weak and inadequate statutes, weak legal, institutional and regulatory regimes for the legal profession in Nigeria, low level of compliance with the rules of professional conduct, poor and incompetent delivery of legal services to client, lack of client care, corruption, and threats occasioned by globalization of legal services.

 This is why it is so important to identify the goal and professional principles for the profession and the objectives for regulating it. These directive objectives and principles will form the basis of assessing the effectiveness of the regulation and subsidiary rules made under it, and act as oversight for the professional leaders, administrators, actors, members and practitioners. They are far-reaching.

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While it is true that the Committee engaged members at Town Hall meetings across the Country before presenting its final report, the need for further robust discussion and input of stakeholders before the bill is moved forward cannot be over-emphasised.

One set back so far. The draft bill is not yet hosted on NBA Website and I have not heard that any branch of the Association, Forum, or Section have discussed the bill (since June 2017) or made any submission or input.

The best way to predict the future is to create it. – Peter Drucker

Prof Ernest Ojukwu, SAN (Chair of the Future State of the Legal Profession Subcommittee of the LPRRC)

 

 

 

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