The emergence of the NBA stamp and seal has made it mandatory for legal practitioners in Nigeria to affix their stamp and seal on documents they purport to prepare or sign.
Sometimes lawyers who have not applied for their stamp and seal or who have exhausted it elect to borrow stamp and seal from a lawyer colleague or partner in the chamber. It is often argued that as long as there is stamp and seal in the process, it is competent notwithstanding that the stamp was borrowed and does not bear the name of the counsel who signed the process. This piece will examine the propriety or otherwise of such practice.
Rules of Professional Conduct 2007 provides for the mandatory requirement of stamp and seal.
Rule 10 (1) states that a lawyer acting in his capacity as a legal practitioner, legal officer or adviser of any Governmental department or Ministry of 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.
(2) For the purpose of this rule, “Legal documents” shall include pleadings, affidavits, depositions, applications, instruments, agreements, deed letters, memoranda, report, legal opinions or any similar documents.
(3) If without complying with the requirements of this rule, a lawyer signs or files any legal documents as defined in sub-rule (2) of this rule, and in any of the capacities mentioned in sub-rule(1), the document so signed or filed shall be deemed not to have been properly signed or filed.
Supreme Court further gave effect to the use of stamp and seal on legal documents by lawyers in the case of General Bello Sarkin Yaki (Rtd) & Anor V. Senator Abubakar Atiku Bagudu & 2 Ors LERSC:722/2015
The court opined that “In this appeal this court says that legal processes without stamp or seal are voidable. That is to say such documents are deemed not to have been properly signed and not that they are invalid. Such documents are redeemed and made valid by a simple directive by the judge or the relevant authority at the time of filing the voidable document for erring counsel to affix stamp and seal as provided for in Rule 10 of the Legal Practitioners Act.” PER O. RHODES-VIVOUR, J.S.C”
Further the court gave it’s rationale why lawyers who prepared legal documents should affix their stamp and seal bearing their name and no other lawyer. There can’t be a different name of counsel who signed the process in his name and goes ahead to borrow stamp of another lawyer bearing that lawyer’s name and supreme Court enrolment number.
In the case of General Bello Sarkin Yaki ( supra) PER S. N. ONNOGHEN, J.S.C gave the rationale for affixing stamp and seal on legal documents and also for lawyers to be given a chance to prove their call by affixing their personal stamp and seal, not borrowed ones whenever such objection is raised. Learned Justice stated that;
“It is only fair to the client, the legal profession and in the interest of justice that the Legal Practitioner involved be given opportunity to prove his call to Bar and enrollment at the Supreme Court of Nigeria by affixing his seal to the document involved at any stage in the proceeding including appeal or whenever an objection to the authenticity of the document is raised under the provisions of the said Rules of Professional conduct, 2007.”
If the purpose of affixing the stamp and seal as stated by PER S.N ONNOGHEN JSC is to prove that a legal practitioner who has been called to bar is authentic then it won’t be proper for a lawyer to sign a document and affixing stamp and seal bearing the name of another lawyer. If this is allowed to prevail, then the purport of Rule 10 of the Rules of Professional conduct would be defeated.
Section 10 of the rules of professional conduct may not have stated expressly that such seal or stamp must be that of the lawyer who signed the legal document, however it is proper and good practice for it to carry the name of the lawyer who signed it otherwise such document would be voidable at the instance of the party raising objection unless counsel on the other side applies to the court to regularise it.
If the document is a motion, and the other counsel objects to the borrowed stamp, it can lead to the court not acting on the document because the process or document before the court would be incompetent.
In the case of NYESOM v. PETERSIDE & ORS CITATION: (2016) LPELR-40036(SC)
the supreme court reaffirmed its decision on stamp and seal by siting the case of General Bello Sarkin Yaki (Rtd) & Anor V. Senator Abubakar Atiku Bagudu & 2 Ors LERSC:722/2015 failure to affix the approved seal andstamp of the NBA on a process does not render the process null and void. It is an irregularity that can be cured by an application for extension of time and a deeming order.”Per KEKEREEKUN, J.S.C. (P. 35, Paras. B-D).
When a legal practitioner uses the stamp and seal of anther lawyer such a document is voidable and incompetent unless regularised. It would amount to bad practice when the counsel who borrowed stamp and seal to argue that such document is competent before the court or that the stamp on the document is that of a lawyer from the same law firm, hence competent. In such circumstance where a lawyer runs out of stamp and seal and seeks to use the stamp and seal of another lawyer in the firm, the lawyer who has the stamp and seal should sign the process so as to have the signed name reflect the affixed stamp. The position of the law is that the stamp to be affixed must be that of the lawyer who signed it.
Where a lawyer borrows stamp of another lawyer and affixes to a legal document he signed and objection is raised on such a legal document where counsel on the other side noticed after a critical examination.
What the lawyer should do is to inform the court that he wishes to remove the seal and stamp already on the document which is not his own to affix his own. Otherwise such process or document would not be acted upon. It would be an incompetent document.(See BARR. BENJAMIN WAYO vs. ENGR. GEORGE T. A. NDUUL & OTHERS LERSC.331/2016).