DEVELOPMENT OF LEGAL PRACTICE IN NIGERIA



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To write the history of a nation or an institution which spans over a
century is naturally a Herculean task. To chronicle the accounts of a
profession which is older than the nation itself is bound to be a self —
inflicted ordeal. However, due consideration must be given to this by members
of this honorable profession.
 

The legal profession in Nigeria derives its origin from the English
legal system and legal profession, which

were introduced into the country in
the second half of the nineteenth century. Therefore, in order to appreciate
some of the characteristics of the behaviors of members of the profession and
to the layman conservative behaviors of members of the profession in this
country (and, indeed, in most common law countries), a historical sketch of the
English legal profession is necessary.

Before the nineteenth (19th) century there were shades of traditional
practices geared towards addressing the issue of law and justice in different
communities in Nigeria. Disputes were presided over by elders, family heads,
kings or paramount rulers, chiefs and titled men. The aim was to restore social
order and give severe sentences when necessary. Also was a system which
prevailed in Sierra — Leone in which pleaders wore masks to avoid recognition.
Also there was a system in which parties were allowed to hire claquers who
applaud every point made by the one who hires them and laughs ironically at the
argument of the other side.
Before the nineteenth century, Britain and other foreign merchants had
started to trade with the indigenous people on the coast of West Africa. The
trading coastal areas included Brass, Calabar, Bonny, Okrika and Opobo.
Attempts were made by the indigenous court in those areas to settle trading
disputes between the foreigners and the indigenous people but the customary
court system was very strange to the British and other foreign traders. It was
hence generally believed that the litigants seldom obtained justice in the
courts. The British government therefore appointed consuls essentially for the
British merchants and the indigenous merchants. The first British consuls and
court was established in 849.
Further, in January 1862, a police court was established in Lagos to
deal with cases which had arisen as a result of the growing commercial
transaction in the colony
This was quickly followed the next year by the Supreme Court ordinance
1863, which constituted the Supreme Court of Her Majesty’s Settlement of Lagos
with effect from April 9, 1863. The ordinances provided that “the laws be
administered in this settlement as in England and so far as such laws and such
administration therefore can be rendered applicable to the circumstance of this
settlement” Between 1863 and 1874 some nine other courts were constituted. Among
these were the Petty Debt Court, the Court of Civil and Criminal Justice, the
Court of Requests and the West Africa Court of Appeal. However it is pertinent
to note that there was an inevitable shortage of suitable personnel to run the
courts let alone perform the duties of an advocate or a solicitor which must
necessary be a concomitant of such a system.

Be that as it may we have it that “of the seven men who served as Chief
Magistrates for Lagos between 1861and 1905, only three were qualified
barristers or solicitors, of the remaining four, two were writing clerks one
was a merchant and the fourth was a commander of the West India Garrison at
Lagos. Of the fourteen (14) persons who served as police magistrates, four were
merchants, six were military officers, two were colonial surgeons, one a deputy
collector of customs until August 1880 when Christopher Alexander Sapara
Williams made his first appearance at the Supreme Court, there was not a
qualified practicing lawyer in Lagos. 
In these circumstance the need to increase the number of both trained
personnel available for legal work in the court and private legal
practitioner’s to assist litigants in this largely illiterate community in dealing
with matters clearly became urgent. To solve this problems provision was made
in the Supreme Court Ordinance 1876 for the admission of persons to practice as
legal practitioner’s in Nigeria. This court ordinance provided for three
categories of people who would be admitted to practice law. These are follows:
1) Those
Entitled To Practice Law In Great Britain:
This was provided for by section 71 of the ordinance to the effect that;
The chief justice shall have power to approve, admit and enroll to
practice as barrister and solicitor in the court such persons as shall have
been admitted as Barristers or Advocates in Great Britain or Ireland and
writers to the signet in any of the courts at London, Dublin or Edinburgh, provided
always that the chief justice may upon due
cause refuse to admit any person as a barrister or a solicitor not
withstanding that he may have the qualification aforesaid.
2) Those
Who Have Served Articles And Passed Certain Examination
By virtue of the section 13 of the ordinance the chief justice shall
have power to admit as solicitor of the supreme court any person who shall have
served five years continuously in the office of a practicing barrister or
solicitor residing within the jurisdiction of the court and who shall have
passed such examination touching on the principal and practice of the law
before such person as the chief justice may from time to time appoint.
  

3) The
Local Attorney
Section 74 of the Ordinance of 1876 further provided for recruitment of
Local Attorneys, hence, the following words
“In case there shall not be a sufficient number of Barristers,
Solicitors and Proctors within the colony, qualified in the manner herein
before prescribed, it shall be lawful for the Chief Justice to admit
temporally, so many other fit and proper persons to appear in the capacity of
Barristers, Solicitors and Proctors as may be necessary, subject to such
conditions and regulations as may be prescribed by the rules of courts”. The
admission was however regulated. Order 8, rule 1 of the Supreme Court (civil
procedure) rules made under the Supreme Court ordinance, 1876 provided that
their admission shall be by license which shall entitle the party to
enrollment, for six months, as a Solicitor, in virtue of which enrollment, he
may, during its continuance appear and act in the capacity of a Barrister,
Solicitor 

and Proctor. The license was renewable before or on the expiration of
six months and so on successively. Order 8, rule 2 provided that the applicant
for the license must state in the application the place of his birth and
education, the nature of the education, and his previous occupations. He must
also attach to the application, a certificate of good character from a Judge or
two District Commissioners. In addition to the above, the applicant was

required before admission to submit to àr examination to test his
general knowledge and education as well as his knowledge of the principal and
practice of the law of England and of the colony unless the chief justice under
order 8, rule 4, should fit in any case to dispense with such examination or
part of it.
When a person was licensed as a local attorney, he was allowed in the
courts to appear and assist litigants or even to work as an officer of the
court. The attorneys were under the strict control of the Chief Justice.
In 1943 the Supreme Court ordinance 1876 was repealed and replaced by
the Supreme Court ordinance 1943 with regard to practice. Order 16 rule 1 of
this ordinance provided as follows:
The chief justice may in his discretion approve, admit and enroll to
practice as a barrister and solicitor in court;
a) Any person who is entitled to practice as a barrister in England or
in Ireland or as an advocate in Scotland and who;
Produces testimonials sufficient to satisfy the
chief justice that he is a man of good character’ and has read in the chamber
of a practicing barrister or advocate of more than five years standing for at
least one year or has practiced in the courts of the country in which he has
been called or admitted for at least two years subsequent to his call or
admission or
–       Has subsequent to his call to the
bar or admission as an advocate read in Nigeria. in the chambers of a
practicing barrister of more than ten year standing for at least two years or
–       Has practiced as a barrister or
solicitor in the courts of a British colony or protectorate for at least two
years
However, there were still some deficiencies practicing law in Nigeria.
Included in these deficiencies are:
1)     The separate status of barrister and solicitor in
England being combined in Nigeria.
2)     The English law is not familiar with
constitutional government as practiced in Nigeria.
Also the English legal
system has no knowledge of Nigeria customary law as an essential part of
Nigerian legal system.
3)     Some of the English lawyers at that time were mere
graduate of other disciplines who therefore attended to dinners as required by
law of courts. This is far from the proper conception of a university trained
lawyer which was laid to rest after the 1943 ordinance.
To help check the above anomalies and inadequacies the committee on the
future of the Nigeria legal profession was appointed by the federal government
in April 1957. 
The committee’s report was published in October 1959. The report
recommended inter alia
i)      that Nigeria should establish its own system
of legal education
ii)      that a law school to be known as the
Nigeria law school be established in Lagos to provide vocational course in law.
iii)     that qualification for admission to legal
practice in Nigeria should be a degree in law and the vocational course
prescribed by the council of legal education.
iv)     that a council of legal education should be
established
After a close study and careful consideration of the committee’s reports
and consultation with the legal profession, two Acts were passed. These were
the Legal Education Act 1962 which provided for legal education for admission,
to practice and the Legal Practitioner’s Act 1962 (last amended 2007) which
provided for the comprehensive regulation of the legal profession.
Credits : Justice .O. Nwaneri
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4 Comments on "DEVELOPMENT OF LEGAL PRACTICE IN NIGERIA"

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Favour e. Onyema
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Favour e. Onyema

Wow! Datz tremendous!

Favour e.g. Onyema
Guest
Favour e.g. Onyema

The article was very very educative and informative….i lyk it!!

Favour E. Onyema
Guest
Favour E. Onyema

If laws are followed or be practiced exactitudely or strictly like this, nothing wll be bad….nd i think dat crime wll nt be much.

Favour E. Onyema
Guest
Favour E. Onyema

If laws ar been practiced lyk dis, bribery will nt be much, at least, smtn wll be better

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