An Agreement Authorizing British Lawyers to Practice Law Generally in Nigeria Without An Equivalent Right to Nigerian Lawyers Is Illegal, Unilateral, Not Bilateral -By Sylvester Udemezue

Status of a lawyer, nature and extent of his engagement in law practice are a major consideration in regulation of lawyers and the legal profession, in Nigeria. Under the Legal Practitioners Act, three categories of person are entitled to practice law in Nigeria. The first class are lawyers who are “entitled to practice generally”. This class covers any lawyer who has been called to the Nigerian Bar and whose name is on the Roll of Legal Practitioners kept at the registry of the Supreme Court of Nigeria. The second class is made up of those entitled to practice by virtue of their office. Lawyer in this class include the Attorney-General of the Federation, the Attorneys-General of the various States of the Federation, and others as allowed by law. Members of this class are referred to as member of the Official Bar. The official bar comprises all Lawyers in public practice, comprising law officers in Government Ministries, Departments, Institutions and Agencies. The head of the Official Bar in Nigeria is the Attorney-General of the Federation, while the various Attorneys-General of the States in Nigeria are heads of the Official Bar in their various States. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria provides that “There shall be an Attorney-General of the Federation who shall be the Chief Law Officer of the Federation and a Minister of the Government of the Federation”.  Members of the official bar are referred to as persons entitled to practice law in Nigeria for the purpose of their office. Hence, the Legal Practitioners Act provides that a serving exercising the functions of any of the office of the Attorney-General, Solicitor-General or Director of Public Prosecutions of the Federation of Nigeria or of a State in Nigeria or such other offices in the civil service of the Federation or of a State as the Attorney-General of the Federation or of the State, as the case may be, may by order specify, shall be entitled to practise as a barrister and solicitor for the purposes of their respective office. The Attorney-General is empowered by the Act to, by an Order expand the scope of members of the official bar, that is, lawyers entitled to practice law in Nigeria for the purpose of their offices.Pursuant to this power, occupants of the following offices in the civil service of the Federation and of the various States in Nigeria, have been designated as persons entitled to practice for the purpose of their respective offices: Directors, Deputy Directors, Assistant Directors, Chief Legal Officers, Assistant Chief of Legal Officers, Principal Legal Officers, Senior Legal Officers, Legal Officers, and Pupil Legal Officers. However, it should be noted that a law officer or legal officer functions both in the private and public sector. Legal Officers are responsible for monitoring all legal affairs within their organization, handling both internal and external legal concerns and are tasked with doing everything in their power to keep their organization out of legal trouble. It is submitted that legal officers in private, non-government departments institutions are not among the members of the official bar, and thus are not entitled to practice law for the purpose of their offices.

The third class, usually referred to as “Lawyers Entitled to Practice Law By Warrant”, comprises lawyers who are entitled to practice law by warrant, in particular proceedings in Nigeria. The Legal Practitioners Act which is the principal enactment regulating law practice in Nigeria, provides that “If an application under this subsection is made to the Chief Justice by or on behalf of any person appearing to him to be entitled to practice as a advocate in any country where the legal system is similar to that of Nigeria and (he) is of the opinion that it is expedient to permit that person to practice as a barrister for the purpose of proceedings described in the application, he may by warrant under his hand authorize that person on payment to the Registrar of such fee not exceeding fifty naira .. to practice as a barrister for the purposes of those proceedings.” Thus, it could be seen that the Chief Justice of Nigeria is empowered to grant leave to a foreign lawyer to come and represent his client in an individual case in Nigeria, and leave. They’re at the bottom of the Table of Precedent, in the Legal Profession in Nigeria. However, such lawyers are not entitled to practice generally by say, setting up a firm in Nigerian to begin to take briefs generally as if they were lawyers duly called to the Nigerian Bar. Not even under the powers awarded the CJN under Section 2, LPA may any lawyer whose name is not on the Roll of Legal Practitioners in Nigeria, get authorized  to practice law generally in Nigeria.

Consequently, a “bilateral” agreement between the UK and Nigeria is illegal, made ultra vires and if the agreement purports to authorize or grant a blanket warrant/license to foreign lawyers (not called to the Nigerian Bar) to ply law practice business in Nigeria. Even in respect of such individual cases/briefs (as I talked about above), in which a foreign lawyer may be give a warrant to undertake a particular law job in Nigeria, after which he leaves back to his country, neither the Minister of Trade and Investment  nor even the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria nor anyone else, save the Chief Justice of Nigeria, possesses the power or authority to grant leave to such foreign lawyer to practice law in Nigeria. Permit me to add to the above, that assuming, but not conceding, that such an agreement was lawful, Nigeria should not sign such an agreement which has the capacity to take law jobs from lawyers in Nigeria (lawyers called to the Bar in Nigeria) and give the same to lawyers in the UK, thereby further shrinking the law practice space in Nigeria.

Meanwhile, an agreement between the United Kingdom and Nigeria which allows British Lawyers to freely practice law in Nigeria without a reciprocal right granted to Nigerian lawyers to freely practice law in the UK, cannot be validly called a bilateral agreement but a one-sided agreement. When related to investments, a bilateral agreement between two countries is one between in which each signatory country agrees to fulfill its own side of the bargain. Typically, according to Investopedia, bilateral agreements involve an equal obligation or consideration from the offeror and the offeree — they involve concessions or obligations owed by both sides of the contract. Thus, a “bilateral agreement” between Nigeria and the UK, allowing British lawyers to practice law in Nigeria without allowing Nigerian lawyers equal right to practice law in the UK, violates a crucial character of a bilateral agreement, because it fails to create equal obligation or consideration from the offeror and the offeree. In law, a bilateral agreement is an agreement formed by an exchange of promise for promise, between two parties, in which the promise of one party is consideration supporting the promise of the other party. From the above, it may be suggested, and it is so submitted, that where the promises or considerations thus exchanged are not the same in character, the agreement is unilateral, not Bilateral. Example, Obi signs an agreement with Musa in which Obi promises to drive Musa to school in exchange for Musa helping Obi to pay for a particular course’s registration upon their arrival in school. This is a UNILATERAL AGREEMENT. On the other hand, is Obi signs an agreement with Musa in which Obi promises to drive Musa to school on Mondays and Tuesdays in exchange for Musa driving Obi to school on Wednesdays and Thursdays, is a BILATERAL AGREEMENT.

Therefore, in my opinion, the agreement tagged The Enhanced Trade and Investment Partnership (ETIP) reportedly signed between Nigeria and the UK on 12 February 2024, among other provisions, permitting lawyers in the UK to freely practice law in Nigeria without an equivalent right granted to Nigerian lawyers, is all of illegal, oppressive, and one-sided. Even if it had permitted lawyers in Nigeria to freely practice in the UK, the agreement would still be ultra vires for the reasons given above; only an amendment of extant laws may make such practice possible in each of Nigeria and the UK. If the Nigerian Government desires to have lawyers in the UK to have the right to practice law generally in Nigeria, they should seek an amendment of the Legal Practitioners Act. Unfortunately, it is doubtful whether the Nigerian Bar Association which is the umbrella organization of all lawyers in Nigeria and other regulators and stakeholders in the legal profession in Nigeria, would not resist such a move with every weapon in their arsenals, as a move targeted to take food away from the mouhts of Nigerian lawyers.

I shall find time to write a detailed analysis on the issue.

Respectfully,
Sylvester Udemezue (udems)
08109024556.
udemsyl@gmail.com.
(13 February 2024)

◾Further Readings◾:

See:

���️. *STEADILY SHRINKING LAW PRACTICE SPACE IN NIGERIA: SEE WHAT THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION AND ITS MEMBERS MUST DO URGENTLY, TO SAVE THE PROFESSION

(By Sylvester Udemezue & Olajumoke Shaeeb), &

���️.Sylvester C Udemezue and Olajumoke M. Shaeeb, ‘Delimiting Lawyers’ Involvement In Sale of Land In Light of The Steady Diminution of The Law Practice Space In Nigeria’, (2022) 3(2) Law and Social Justice Review (LASJURE), 183.  <https://www.nigerianjournalsonline.com/index.php/LASJURE/article/view/2976> or <https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3818892> or <https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Delimitating-the-Scope-of-Lawyers%60-Involvement-in-A-Udemezue/bcc4edbf3e22fb81a900a41e13644608c4ab5150> or <https://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?handle=hein.journals/lwadsljerw3&div=51&id=&page=> or <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/350953065_DELIMITING_LAWYERS’_INVOLVEMENT_IN_SALE_OF_LAND_IN_LIGHT_OF_THE_STEADY_DIMINUTION_OF_THE_LAW_PRACTICE_SPACE_IN_NIGERIA#fullTextFileContent>


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