by Hameed Ajibola Jimoh, Esq.
The Rules of Professional Conducts for Legal Practitioners, 2007-herein after referred to as the RPC- was amended by the Chairman of the Bar Council (the Chairman of the Bar Council being the Honourable, the Attorney-General of the Federation) by an official gazette.
The gazette which amended the 2007’s RPC is marked S.I N0.15 of 2020 dated September 3, 2020, which reads in part, “In exercise of the powers conferred on me by section 12(4) of the Legal Practitioners Act Cap L11, LFN 2004 and of all other powers enabling me in that behalf, I, Abubakar Malami, SAN, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice and President, General Council of the Bar, make the following rules: “The Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners, 2007 is amended by deleting the following rules, namely: 9(2), 10, 11, 12 and 13. “These rules may be cited as the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners (Amendment) Rules, 2020.”.
The amendment had generated some criticisms among lawyers especially on the argument that since the said purported amendment had not been gazetted, the amendment remains without force of law. I had written some articles on this issue as my contribution against this criticism of lawyers against the amendment.
Fortunately, the gazetted copy surfaced in the 2020 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (even in circulation on the social media) to the shock and surprise of those who had held contrary views against the amendment. While some resigned from their criticism, some are bent on not being discouraged in their arguments.
This paper is now asking that since it is now confirmed to have been gazetted, and the Rule 10 of the Rules of Professional Conducts for Legal Practitioners, 2007-herein after referred to as the RPC- has been deleted, would it still be legal and or lawful for lawyers to continue to affix any seal and or stamp (being private signs and or symbols) issued by the Nigerian Bar Association-herein after referred to as NBA- (a privately registered association) to their legal documents?
First and foremost, one of the impacts of the 2020 amendment of the RPC is the deleting and or cancellation of the outlined Rules of the RPC as contained in the gazette namely: 9(2), 10, 11, 12 and 13. : The word ‘delete’ has been carefully used which according to the online Merriam Webster Dictionary, means among other meanings as: to eliminate especially by blotting out, cutting out, or erasing;. It also has the synonyms of the following words ‘blue-pencil, cancel, cross (out), dele, edit (out), elide, kill, scratch (out), strike (out), stroke (out), x (out). Also, the word ‘cancel’ as a synonym of ‘delete’ used in the amendment RPC, 2020, which according to the online Merriam Webster Dictionary, means among other meanings, ‘to destroy the force, effectiveness, or validity of: ANNUL’. In the context of this paper, Rule 10 of the 2007’s RPC that was amended by the 2020’s RPC contains the following information which deals with stamp and Seal.
The implication of the cancellation of this Rule 10 of the RPC, 2007 in my humble view, is that it has been: eliminated especially by blotting out, cutting out, or erasing, ‘blue-pencilled, cancelled, crossed (out), deleted, edited (out), elided, killed, scratched (out), struck (out), stroked (out), xed (out) destroyed, rendered ineffective and invalid and or annulled that is to say, it ceases to exist in the legal profession any more while the 2020 RPC amending it take effects and or subsists.
Furthermore, a glossary look at Rule 10 of the RPC, 2007, that has been amended and or now cancelled by virtue of the amendment of the 2020 RPC, reveals that it provides for the mandatory use of an approved stamp and seal by the Nigerian Bar Association-herein after referred to as the NBA. The said Rule 10 of the RPC, 2007, provides thus ‘. (1) A lawyer acting in his capacity as a legal practitioner, legal office or adviser of any Governmental department or Ministry of any corporation, shall not sign or file a legal document unless there is affixed on any such document a seal and stamp approved by the Nigerian Bar Association. (2) For the purpose of this rule, “Legal documents” shall include pleadings, affidavits, depositions, applications, instruments, agreements, deed letters, memoranda, report, legal opinions or any similar documents. (3) If without complying with the requirements of this rule, a lawyer signs or files any legal documents as defined in sub-rule (2) of this rule, and in any of the capacities mentioned in sub-rule(1), the document so signed or filed shall be deemed not to have been properly signed or filed.’.
The cancellation of this Rule 10 of the RPC, 2007, in my humble view means that without complying with the requirements of the Rule 10 of the RPC, 2007, a lawyer can now sign or file any legal documents which shall include pleadings, affidavits, depositions, applications, instruments, agreements, deed letters, memoranda, report, legal opinions or any similar documents in any of his capacity as a legal practitioner, legal office or adviser of any Governmental department or Ministry of any corporation, sign or file a legal document without affixing on any such document a seal and stamp approved by the Nigerian Bar Association. And any such documents shall henceforth from the date the gazette has been issued, shall be presumed to have been properly signed. What this cancellation also means is that a lawyer can now file his processes or documents without affixing any seal and or stamp approved by the NBA on such document and or process and such document and or process is valid and competent in any capacity of the lawyer.
This also has the implication that the NBA needs not produce any seal or stamp for its members. Also, legal practitioners need no more apply for any seal and stamp from NBA and need not pay for any such seal and or stamp to the NBA.
Furthermore, it is my humble submission that since the amended RPC, 2020, is now confirmed gazetted against the Rule 10 of the RPC, it becomes illegal and or unlawful (that is without any legal basis) for any lawyer to affix any such seal and or stamp approved by the NBA on any legal document and such document on which the seal and or stamp of the NBA (a privately owned and or issued seal and or stamp) is affix shall become incompetent (or at best voidable) unless and or until such seal and or stamp is removed and or detached from the said legal document and a court of law would be justified to strike out the said processes and or order the seal and or stamp of the NBA affixed to be removed and or detached from the said processes/legal document in the interest of justice.
This is so in my humble view, since the legal basis for the use of the seal and or stamp is Rule 10 of the RPC and this Rule 10 of the RPC has been deleted, then, it no more exists and affixing such seal and or stamp of the NBA on legal document therefore lacks legal basis or legal foundation and one cannot place something on nothing and expect it to stand. See: the case of Macfoy v United African Company Limited PC 27 Nov. 1961.
Furthermore, I have taken cognizance of Order 2 Rule 9 of the High Court of Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, which provides thus ‘All processes filed at the registry, shall bear the seal of the Counsel filing the suit as provided by the Nigerian Bar Association, showing that the counsel is fully enrolled as a legal practitioner and qualified to practise in Nigeria’. In my humble view, this provision has been overtaken by the event of the amendment to the 2007 RPC by the 2020 RPC. More so, the Honourable, the Chief Judge of the High Court of FCT, Abuja, lacks the jurisdiction and or power to control legal practitioners and no such power was conferred on the Honourable, the Chief Judge of FCT, Abuja, to make any such law and or Rules regulating and or controlling the practice of the law by the legal practitioner under the Legal Practitioners’ Act.
Also, the practice of a lawyer is not the same as Rules of Courts governing filing of processes in court. Therefore, this provision in my humble, now lacks efficacy and such provision in the Order 2 Rule 9 remains void by the amended 2020, RPC.
Furthermore, by virtue of section 148(1)(a) of the Evidence Act, 2011, it is provided thus ‘148. The Court shall presume the genuineness of every document purporting to be- (a) the Official Gazette of Nigeria or of a State:’. Furthermore, in the case of ONWUKA v. OKOLI & ORS (2017) LPELR-43957(CA) the meaning of a “gazette” was defined by the Court thus “Gazette simply means a journal or newspaper, especially an official one for an organization or institution. The Wikipedia defines gazette as an ‘authoritative report or guide that informs readers concisely about a complex issue and presents the issuing body’s philosophy on the matter.’ It is meant to help readers understand an issue, solve a problem, or make a decision.” Per MUKHTAR, J.C.A. (Pp. 16-17, Paras. E-A).
Also, in the case of OGUNDIPE v. THE MINISTER OF FCT & ORS. (2014) LPELR-22771(CA, the meaning of a “gazette” was defined thus “A gazette is an official publication of the Federal Government of Nigeria or a State in which the official acts of the government e.g. appointments, notices and other legal matters are reported.” Per ADUMEIN,J.C.A. (P.54,paras.C-D).
Furthermore, in the case of N.E.C v Wodi (1989) 2 NWLR (Pt.104) Pg 444 at 454 Para. B, the Court had to decide on the Presumption of official gazette and it was held as follows ‘Again, under section 112 now 113 of the Evidence Act, all notifications, appointments and other official communications of the Government of the Federation and of a State which appear in the Official Gazette of the Federation and of a State may be proved by the production of such Gazette, and shall be prima facie proof of any fact of a public nature which they were intended to convey. Per Kolawole, JCA. In this same case law (i.e. N.E.C v Wodi (supra) at Pg 444 at 454 Para. A, the court held on whether official gazette need to be produced from proper custody before it can be presumed genuine thus ‘It has been held that under section 115 now 116 of the Evidence Act, official Gazette of the Federation and of a State do not have to be produced from proper custody before they can be presumed genuine. Per Kolawole, JCA.
Also, in the case of: Imade v. Mil. Admin., Edo State (2001) 6 NWLR (Pt 709) pg. 491, para F; pg. 493, para. C the Honourable Court had to decide on the presumption as to Gazette and held thus ‘On the use and validity/ admissibility of an official gazette. It is trite that an official gazette is the main vehicle of communicating Acts of both the Federal and State governments. Official Gazettes are published weekly. All other gazettes which are not published weekly are called extra-ordinary gazettes which are used to announce Acts, proclamations or other actions of government of an urgent nature. Ignorance of the contents of a gazette is no excuse. (Per Ibiyeye. J.C.A.) A gazette is the strongest weapon available to government to revoke a licence issued by the same government and any such revocation which is bona fide, is valid and final. A court of law has not the jurisdiction to question the legality of such revocation in the gazette.(Per Tobi, J.C.A). Furthermore, in the case of OUR LINE LTD v. SCC NIGERIA LTD & ORS. (2009) LPELR-2833(SC), the apex Court had to decide on the meaning of “Official Gazettes”; how it is proved and when it takes effect; whether notice made by gazette is conclusive and its evidential value held thus “Official Gazettes are a class of official documents which Section 113(a)(i) of the Evidence Act CAP 112 of the Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990, made provision for as part of the provisions made for documentary evidence under the Act. The Section states – The following public documents may be proved as follows: (a) Acts of the National Assembly or laws of a State legislature, proclamations, treaties or other acts of State, Orders, notifications, nominations appointments and other official communications of the Government of Nigeria or of any State thereof or of any Local Government – (i) Which appears in the Federal Gazette or the Gazette of a State, by production of such Gazette, and shall be prima facie proof of any fact of a public nature which they were intended to notify: (ii) ……………. (iii) …………… (iv) …………… A Gazette therefore serves as official communication of the Government of Nigeria or of any State thereof or of any Local Government. As documentary evidence, the contents of a Gazette, as stated in the law, is prima facie proof of any fact of a public nature, which the Gazette is intended to notify. The subject to be tested for credibility, weight or cogency to determine its acceptability. In this respect, the weight to be attached to a document, like the Official Gazette in the present case, is a matter of inference to be drawn from established facts and in this regard both the trial Court and the Appellate Court are in the same position when the question involved, is the proper weight to be attached to the document. See Attorney General, Oyo State v. Fairlakes Hotels Limited (1989) 5 N.W.L.R. (pt. 121) 255 at 282 – 283; Ayeni v. Dada (1978) 3 S.C. 35 at 61 and Akinola v. Oluwo (1962) 1 All N.L.R. 224; (1962) 1 S.C.N.L.R. 352.” Per MAHMUD MOHAMMED, J.S.C (Pp. 28-30, paras. G-B).
Finally on this proposition of the presumption of the genuineness of a gazettee, in the of NEC & ORS. v. WODI (supra) held on the ADMISSIBILITY OF A GAZETTE : Whether the content of an official gazette can be admitted in evidence thus “For the purpose of complying with section 112(1)(a) of the Evidence Act, it is enough for the Gazette to be brought forth simply without a witness producing the Gazette and testifying under the sanctity of an oath. The Supreme Court has laid it down that – “It is perhaps just as well to point out here that since Notice 1258 in the October Gazette dealt with facts of a public nature and of which it was the intention of the Government to notify the public, once the document (i.e. the October Gazette containing the notice) was produced before a court – whether of first instance or appellate grade – then unless the contents of that notice are irrelevant to the matter in issue that court, having the document before it, ought to take account of it and, if need be, admit it in evidence under sections 115 (limb A) and 112(1)(a) of the Evidence Act.” The Supreme Court further observed as follows:- “Following the above principles of the law of evidence we think that their Lordships of the Court of Appeal ought to have admitted the document (the October Gazette) in evidence or, at least, looked at and regarded it as evidence and, in refusing to do so, we consider that they erred in law. In exercise of our general powers under section 22 of the Supreme Court Act and in keeping with the above principles of the law of evidence we not only looked at but also admitted in evidence (neither counsel at the hearing of the appeal objecting) the document (the October Gazette) as exhibit SC (1)”. (See Ogbunyiya and others v. Okudo and others (1979) 3 L.R.N. 318, 322, 324, 325.)” Per KOLAWOLE, J.C.A. (Pp. 15-16, paras. F-F).
It is however noteworthy that the gazette purportedly amending the 2007’s RPC is marked S.I N0.15 of 2020 issued by AGF and dated September 3, 2020, hence, it is those legal documents filed after the 3rd day of September, 2020, that this paper refers to as being voidable and or illegal and not those legal documents filed before the 3rd day of September, 2020
Finally, it is my hope that wise counsel would guide us all as lawyers and that our courts of law would continue to uphold the rule of law in regard to the Gazetted Amended 2020 RPC.