*Says Fixed Legal Fees Contradict Anti-Regulation Arguments
Prominent human rights lawyer Femi Falana SAN has stirred controversy within the legal community this week by accusing fellow legal practitioners of hypocrisy for their opposition to the Federal Government’s court-ordered regulation of certain commodity prices.
Falana argues that such opposition contradicts existing legislation that extensively regulates lawyer fees, thereby suggesting that price controls over essential goods should not be opposed.
Falana’s assertion is grounded in the current legal landscape, which mandates Nigerian lawyers to comply with various regulations. These include the annual payment of practicing fees and the purchase of official NBA stamps for legal documents. Furthermore, legal practitioners are required to collect and remit VAT and adhere to fixed pricing scales based on services, states, and bands.
Several cases in Nigerian courts have upheld the compulsory payment of practicing fees and the use of NBA stamps, yet proponents of neoliberalism within the legal profession have not challenged these rulings. This lack of opposition is seen as contradictory, given their stance on regulatory interference potentially infringing on citizens’ right to access justice.
Falana highlights a significant legal precedent set by the case of Emmanuel Chukwuma Ukala v Federal Inland Revenue Service, where the Federal High Court ruled that law firms are taxable entities under the Value Added Tax Act. This decision underscores the legal profession’s tax liability and further complicates the regulatory framework surrounding legal services.
The 2023 Legal Practitioners Remuneration Order adds another layer of regulation, setting non-negotiable fees for various legal services. The order divides Nigeria into state bands to standardize remuneration rates, reflecting similarities to the Price Control Act in its approach to regulating prices.
Despite provisions allowing for pro bono legal services, Falana emphasizes the meticulous oversight enforced by the Remuneration Committee. This committee investigates breaches of the new legislation, with infractions deemed as professional misconduct and subject to disciplinary action.
In light of the stringent regulations imposed on legal practitioners, including compulsory fees and fixed professional fees, Falana argues that opposition to the Federal High Court’s directive on price control laws for essential commodities appears hypocritical. He asserts that such opposition contradicts existing laws and highlights the need for consistency in legal advocacy.
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