Pursuant to several contradicting views and concerns from colleagues who may not have paid their Bar Practicing Fees by or before 31 March and the consequences of their failure to make the payments as at the said date. This article is intended to clarify issues in that regard and to guide those “defaulting” members.
Section 1(4) of the Nigerian Bar Association (“NBA” or “Association”)) Constitution 2015 defines a full member of the Association as “any person duly enrolled at the Supreme Court of Nigeria as a legal practitioner and registered with a Branch of the Association”.
Notwithstanding that definition, any member who fails or neglects to pay his or her Bar Practising Fees (“BPF”) by or before the end of March of each year shall, FOR AS LONG AS HE/SHE REMAINS IN DEFAULT, inter alia, have no right:
I. Of audience in any Court in Nigeria;
II. To prepare, authenticate or frank legal documents including Memorandum and/or Articles of Association;
III. To hold any office whatsoever to which he or she would have been entitled by virtue of his/her qualification as a legal practitioner.
IV. To vote or be voted for at any election of the Association
Furthermore, failure or neglect to pay the Annual Practising Fees and Branch Dues, as and when due, shall be deemed to be an act of professional misconduct. In consonance with the NBA Constitution, Rule 9 of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007 mandatorily stipulates as follows:
9. -(1) “A lawyer shall pay his Annual Practicing Fees not later than 31st March in every year. In the case of lawyers who are enrolled during the year, the fees shall be paid within one month of the enrolment.
(2) “A lawyer shall not claim in any court or before a judicial tribunal that he has paid his Annual Practicing Fee when he is, in fact, in default.
(3) “A lawyer shall not sign documents, pleadings, affidavits, depositions, applications, instruments, agreements, letters, deeds, letters, memorandum, reports, legal opinions or similar documents or processes or file such documents as a legal practitioner, legal officer or adviser of any Governmental department or Ministry or any corporation when he is in default of payment of his Annual Practicing Fees”.
As earlier stated, the non-payment of Bar Practising Fees on or before 31st March of each year robs the Legal Practitioner of audience before the Courts with effect from the said “cut-off” date. Non-payment of the Practising Fees as at when due also denies the Legal Practitioner certain privileges e.g. elevation to the Inner Bar as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and/or appointments as Notary Public and as Judicial Officers.
Rule 10(1) of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007 also provides that a lawyer acting in the capacity of a legal practitioner, legal officer or adviser of any Governmental department or Ministry or 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. The payment of Bar Practising Fees is a pre-condition for the issuance of the annual seal and stamp.
The Question is: Considering the grave consequences of a failure to pay the Bar Practicing Fees on or before 31st March of each year, is there any remedy available to defaulting lawyers? The answer is: YES!
If any legal practitioner has failed or neglected to pay his/her Bar Practising Fees on or before 31st March of any year, all hope is not lost. The right of audience before the Courts can be restored and the qualification for the issuance of annual stamps may be remedied by and upon the immediate payment of the Bar Practising Fees, albeit, after the cut-off date of 31st March. Please note, however, that the other privileges (e.g. elevation to the Inner Bar and appointments as Notary Public and as a Judicial Officer) will unfortunately remain forfeited to the defaulting legal practitioner.
Written by: O.N. Ewelike Esq., Franklike2001@yahoo.com