The purpose of this article is to address the following question: can a foreign lawyer practise law in Nigeria? The article examines in particular, whether foreign lawyers from commonwealth countries can practise law in Nigeria.
Who can practise law in Nigeria?
The provisions of Section 2 and 24 of the Legal Practitioners Act provides that: only those whose name is on the roll of the Supreme Court are qualified to practise as a lawyer in Nigeria. The implication of this is that a foreign lawyer cannot practice as a lawyer in Nigeria. However, Section 2(2)a of the Act provides an exception to this. The section provides that the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) can allow a person to practice as a barrister (appear in court) in Nigeria for a particular proceeding. Such person must make an application to the CJN for the specific proceeding. The application can be made by a person who is qualified to practice as a barrister in a country that bears similarity with Nigeria Legal System.
Who is a foreign lawyer?
For the purpose of this article, a foreign lawyer is a legal practitioner that has been admitted to practise law in another country other than Nigeria.
A foreign lawyer as an arbitrator in Nigeria
Arbitration is a legal proceeding in Nigeria that involves helping parties resolve their dispute without recourse to the court. The Arbitration and Conciliation Act (ACA) LFN, 2004 governs arbitration in Nigeria. The ACA consists of 3 parts. These are: domestic arbitration, conciliation, and international arbitration. The Act equally contains Arbitration Rules in the First Schedule.
It is important to state that Nigeria ACA is an adaptation of United Nations Commission on International Trade Laws (UNCITRAL) 1976 with very few amendments. Of importance to us is Article 4 of UNCITRAL which states that parties to arbitration proceedings “may be represented or assisted by persons of their choice”. While domesticating the law, the said Article 4 of UNCITRAL which now reads as Article 4 of ACA states as follows “parties may be represented or assisted by legal practitioners of their choice”.
The change in word from persons to legal practitioners implies that under the Nigeria Arbitration legal regime, only a legal practitioner that is qualified under Section 2 & 24 of LPA is entitled to represent parties in a domestic arbitration in Nigeria. An exception is where such person is granted a warrant of exception by Chief Justice for that purpose.
International arbitration in Nigeria
There is a checklist in Section 57(2) of the ACA in regard to when an arbitration in Nigeria will be considered as international arbitration. Section 57(2)d states that parties have an unfettered right to term their arbitration as international without recourse to the nature of the contract. That is, with or without the contract having international flavor in it.
The implication of the above is that by parties inserting in their contract that arbitrations arising from it is international, they are excluded from the restricting influence of Article 4 of the Arbitration Rules. The arbitration proceedings will be regulated by any international Rules of their choice. A foreign lawyer could thus sit as an arbitrator in Nigeria without being enrolled as a legal practitioner in Nigeria. Such lawyer would also not be required to obtain warrant from the Chief Justice.
Foreign-trained lawyers are required to go through the mandatory Bar Part 1 exam at Nigerian Law School where they will be exposed to the Nigeria Legal System courses. Upon completion, they will be qualified to be admitted to the Bar Part II program. Upon successfully passing the Bar final exam, such a foreign-trained lawyer will be admitted to the Nigerian Bar and become eligible to practise law in Nigeria.