Sunday, February 11, 2024 5:05 pm
Notwithstanding that Nigeria operates a so-called free market economy, no profession is more regulated than the legal profession in Nigeria. Interestingly, the lawyers who have criticised the order of the Federal High Court which has directed the Federal Government to control the prices of essential commodities by the Federal Government have not campaigned for the right to practice law without any form of regulatory interference.
It is pertinent to review the laws that regulate and some of the decided cases on the regulation of the practice of law throughout the country. First, pursuant to section 8(2) of the Legal Practitioners Act, no legal practitioner shall be accorded the right of audience in any court in Nigeria in any year, unless he/she has paid, in respect of that year, the prescribed practising fee Second, the Stamp and Seal produced and sold by the Nigerian Bar Association must be purchased and affixed on legal processes, legal documentation and legal correspondences.
In several cases, Nigerian courts have upheld the legal validity of the compulsory payment of practising fees and the NBA stamp. Yet, apostles of neoliberalism in the legal profession have not challenged such judicial decisions on the grounds that they infringe on the fundamental right of every citizen to access the court for legal redress in accordance with section 36(1) of the Constitution.
In the celebrated case of Emmanuel Chukwuma Ukala v Federal Inland Revenue Service (2021) 56 TLRN 1, it was held by the Federal High Court that a law firm is a taxable person within the meaning of the Value Added Tax Act and is therefore liable to collect VAT from its clients and remit same to the Federal Inland Revenue Service. See Al-Masser Law Firm v Federal Inland Revenue Service (2019) LPELR-48628 (CA).
Third, the 2023 Legal Practitioners Remuneration Order has regulated the prices charged for services by legal practitioners in Nigeria. Like the Price Control Act, the law covers the remuneration charged by legal practitioners for business, legal services and legal representation unlike the revoked order of 1991 which covered only remuneration for legal documentation and other land matters.
The 2023 Legal Practitioners Remuneration Order
contains 4 scales in the 1st schedule according to which a legal practitioner shall charge his/her legal fees as follows:
Fees chargeable on the scales provided by the Legal Practitioners Remuneration Order 2023 are not negotiable.
The new Order divides Nigeria into State Bands with respect to the Remuneration of legal practitioners as follows:
While the law recognizes the right of lawyers to do pro bono legal services under the Legal Aid Act or for family members, it stipulates that any lawyer doing pro bono service on grounds of consanguinity or affinity shall submit to the Remuneration Committee an affidavit disclosing the facts and circumstances justifying the pro bono work.
The provisions of the new Order are binding on all legal practitioners immediately after it came into effect on the 16th day of May 2023. The breach of the provisions of the new Order is professional misconduct. Lawyers are encouraged to report any breach of the new legislation to the Remuneration Committee. The Remuneration Committee shall investigate the reports and lodge a report to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee if a case of infraction of the new Order is established.
In view of the compulsory payment of practising fees and NBA Stamp, and having regard to the binding provisions of the 2023 Legal Practitioners Remuneration Order which has fixed the professional fees of legal practitioners, it is the height of hypocrisy on the part of lawyers to question the order of the Federal High Court which has directed the Federal Government to control the prices of essential commodities in Nigeria, in conformity with a subsisting written law.
Femi Falana SAN.