Validity Or Otherwise Of Decisions Emanating From Petitions Instituted Under The Rules Of Professional Conduct, 2020


The Month of September, 2020 ushered in an announcement of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners (Amendment) Rules 2020 (hereinafter referred to as ‘RPC 2020’). Reportedly, the Attorney-General of the Federation (hereinafter referred to as ‘AGF’) said the amendment was made in exercise of the powers conferred on him by Section 12(4) of the Legal Practitioners Act as Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice and President of the General Council of the Bar.

The effect of the RPC 2020 which was published in an official gazette marked S.1 NO.15 of 2020 dated September 3, 2020, is an amendment of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners, 2007 (hereinafter referred to as ‘RPC 2007’) by deleting Rules 9(2), 10, 11, 12 and 13 from it. While Rule 9(2) prohibits any legal practitioner from claiming that he has paid his Bar Practicing Fees (BPF) when he is actually in default, Rule 10 mandates the use of stamp and seals by lawyers to authenticate documents they prepare. Rules 11, 12 and 13 respectively provide for Mandatory Continuing Legal Education, Annual Practicing Certificate, and Notice of Legal Practice upon setting up a private legal practice.

There is however a controversy on the validity or otherwise of the proposed amendment done to the RPC 2007 by the RPC 2020. This work examines the validity of decisions on Petitions instituted under the RPC 2020 in the light of relevant statutory and judicial authorities.


Statutorily, the powers to amend the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners is vested on the Bar Council[1] which by Section 1(2) of the Legal Practitioners Act, is not a one-man squad but consists of;

(a) the Attorney-General of the Federation, who shall be the president of the council;

(b) the Attorneys-General of the States; and

(c) twenty members of the association.

The law is clear that where a statute confers specific powers on any person or authority, such powers can only be validly carried out when exercised by that person or authority. Giving credence to this principle, the Court of Appeal in KWARA STATE POLYTECHNIC, ILORIN & IR v. SALIU & ORS[2], had this to say, ‘It is trite law that, if an enactment bestows on a particular person or authority the power to do a specific duty, it is only that person or authority, and none other, that can perform the assignment before it will receive the imprimatur of the law’.[3]

It follows that for the amendment power statutorily vested on the Bar Council to be valid, it must be exercised by the Bar Council as constituted by law and not a member of the Bar Council alone. The unilateral amendment of the RPC 2007 by the AGF therefore questions compliance with the Legal Practitioners Act in terms of the power to so amend. The amendment in question attracted an outcry of disagreement by the legal community on grounds that it violated the statutory rules of RPC amendment.


Vide a letter dated 15th September 2021 and addressed to the AGF, the former NBA President Olumide Akpata asked the AGF to rescind the amendments made in the RPC 2020. According to Akpata, “the RPC or amendments to it may only be enacted and issued after they have been duly approved at a properly convened meeting of the bar council. I have been duly informed, by NBA Representatives on the Bar Council and other members of the Bar Council who have reached out to me, that to the best of their knowledge, no meeting of the Bar Council was convened to discuss any amendment to the RPC or to approve the Instrument. It, therefore, appears that the Instrument was enacted without proper authority.”[4]

Further, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) through its leadership, took steps to address this controversy by submitting the validity question of the said amendment for determination by a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja. The Court in declaring the unilateral amendment as illegal held that, the General Council of the Bar is constituted by several members, and the RPC cannot therefore be legitimately amended by the singular desire and action of the Attorney General.[5]


The rules deleted by the purported amendment of the RPC 2007, touch on the sanctity and integrity of the bar, thus such unilateral amendment was a threat to the Nigerian bar. Apart from helping to check quackery, the stamp and seal is also a major source of revenue for the NBA, besides the practising fees paid by lawyers.[6] Considering the judicial pronouncement of the RPC 2020 as illegal and in keeping with the legal principle that, you cannot place something on nothing and expect it to stand[7], it is concluded that Petitions instituted under the Rules of Professional Conduct 2020 are themselves invalid, hence, any decision emanating therefrom is without the force of law, and at best a nullity.

[1] Section 12(4) Legal Practitioners Act Cap L11, LFN 2004

[2] (2012) LPELR-9695(CA) Pp. 68-69, paras. C-B.

[3] see also, section 10(1) of the interpretation Act, Emuze vs. V.C., University of Benin (2003) 10 NWLR (Pt. 828) 378.

[4] Rules Of Professional Conduct 2020: Court Declares Illegal, AGF’s Unilateral Amendment, by Emmanuel Egobiambu. Available at https://www.channelstv.com/2022/08/10/rules-of-professional-conduct-2020-court-declares-illegal-agfs-unilateral-amendment/amp/ Accessed September 12, 2022.

[5] 2020 RPC: “Amendment Of Rules Of Professional Conduct By AGF Illegal And Invalid” — Court Rules, by Unini Chioma. The Nigeria Lawyer [online]. Available at https://thenigerialawyer.com/2020-rpc-amendment-of-rules-of-professional-conduct-by-agf-illegal-and-invalid-court-rules/. Accessed September 14, 2022.

[6] Court nullifies Malami’s unilatetal amendment of lawyers’ professional conduct rules, by Ameh Ejekwonyilo. Premium Times [online]. Available at https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/top-news/548024-court-nullifies-malamis-unilatetal-amendment-of-lawyers-professional-conduct-rules.html  Accessed September 14, 2022.

[7] Mcfoy v. U.A.C. (1961) 3 All ER 1169 at pg. 1172, OWNERS VS ADENIJI (1993) 2 NWLR (Pt 274).