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(Lawyer of Promise)



(2021) LPELR-54218(CA)

Whether where there is an NBA seal on a Court process, the name of counsel whose name is in the seal as the signatory on the document/process must be ticked; effect of failure

"...The said Amended Statement of Claim as it were, has the names of four counsel listed thereon with one signature appended on the right-hand side of the first two names to wit: J. B. Ifer, Esq. and V. S. Asen, Esq. In the very recent decision of this Court in Maina vs. EFCC (2020) 2 NWLR Pt. 1708, pg. 230 at 251-252, it was no doubt held per Abundaga, J.C.A., that: "Where a Court process has affixed to it, the seal of the Legal Practitioner who prepared it in line with Rule 10(1) of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007, it is otiose to tick the name of the counsel whose name is in the seal as the signatory on the document or process."

Consequent upon the foregoing and on a careful perusal of the seal and stamp affixed on the appellant's Motion upon which the Amended Statement of Claim was brought in as a process of the Court, it is clear that the said Stamp bears the name of "Ian Solomon" who in turn is listed as the 3rd counsel in the line-up of counsel on the said process. The impression thereby created is that "Ian Solomon" prepared the Amended Statement of Claim. Be that as it may, this position to my mind, would still not obliterate or dispense with the need to tick or tie the signature to the particular counsel who prepared the process, and as enunciated in the earlier decision of Oyama vs. Agibe (2015) LPELR-40600(CA). 

The need to tick or tie the signature or contraption remains indispensable, given the fact that most law firms operate in partnership of more than one counsel. In such circumstances of multiple partners or counsel as has played out in the instant case, the processes filed in Court by such firms cannot have the Seal and Stamp of each of those counsel in the firm. Rather, the process can only accommodate one NBA Seal and Stamp which invariably may not belong to the very counsel that prepared the said process. For a firm with only one counsel, the need to tick or tie signature to name of the counsel may not arise. However, in the case of multiple counsel in the firm, the need of specificity of the counsel who prepared such process, cannot be overemphasized. To this end, the needed identification will be met by way of ticking the name of the particular counsel that prepared the process. 

Furthermore, and in order to authenticate the process, the signature or contraption as it were of the said counsel must be appended on the process, in such a manner that the Court will not be left in doubt as to the owner of the signature. In order to achieve this clarity and avoid confusion, the signature of the particular counsel shall be linked to its owner. This mode of linkage has always been achieved by the age-long practice of ticking. As it is in the instant case, the Court is still left to speculate as to who, between J. B. IFER, ESQ., V. S. ASEN, ESQ., and SOLOMON IAN, ESQ., specifically prepared and filed the process in Court, since the particular owner of the signature is not identifiable. Notwithstanding the Seal and Stamp affixed thereon, the process could have been signed by any of the first-two counsel, beside whom the signature is appended. 

What I have tried to say so far is that, the affixing of NBA Seal and Stamp alone, without proper identification of the particular counsel out of multiple counsel in a firm, who prepared and filed a process in Court, still leaves the Court to speculate. For proper identification therefore, and without prejudice to the affixing of the NBA Seal and Stamp, the counsel's name ought to be ticked also. Besides that, the apex Court in a plethora of authorities which include SLB. Consortium vs. NNPC (2014) 3-4 MJ.S.C., 145 at 146 - 151, Ratio 1 thereof, made it clear that all processes filed in Court are to be signed as follows: "First, the signature of counsel which may be any contraption. Secondly, the name of counsel clearly written. Thirdly, who counsel represents. Fourthly, name and address of legal firm ..." See further the authorities of Citibank (Nig.) Ltd. vs. Titan Energy Ltd. (2018) LPELR-4464(CA); Nweke vs. FRN. (2018) LPELR-460033(CA); Daniel vs. INEC. & Ors. (2015) LPELR-24566(SC); Ewukoya vs. Tajudeen Buari (2016) LPELR-40492(CA) at 9 - 12 (D-B); Bank of Industries Ltd. vs. Awojugbagbe Light Industries Ltd. (2018) LPELR-43812(SC); Min. of Works & Transport, Adamawa State vs. Yakubu (2013) All FWLR (Pt. 694) 23, 27-28; and Bello vs. Adamu (2013) All FWLR (Pt. 671) 1582, 1881, Ratio 1. 

It follows from the foregoing that either way, be it an originating process such as a Writ of Summons or any other process such as the Statement of Claim, once it is a process meant for use in Court, it is desirable that the signature of the specific Legal Practitioner who prepared same or that of the Claimant as the case may be, is appended thereon in order for such a process to attract validity. While a document devoid of the maker's signature would be rendered invalid and of no consequence, a process like the Amended Statement of Claim which has an unidentifiable signature appended thereon, can only be said to be irregular. This is to say that, the Amended Statement of Claim such as the one in the instant case wherein three counsel, as already enumerated above are contending for one signature or contraption, cannot but be deemed to be irregular and voidable as opposed to being void. 

Furthermore, a Statement of Claim, unlike a Writ of Summons and a Notice of Appeal, is not an Originating Process for which its defect will go to the root of the matter. Reliance is placed on the recent case of Heritage Bank Ltd. vs. Bentworth Fin. (Nig.) Limited (2018) 9 NWLR Pt. 1625, page 420 at 434, paras. B - C, wherein our noble Eko, J.S.C., brought home the fact that: "Whether an irregularity renders a process void and not voidable depends on the type of irregularity. An irregularity affecting an originating process is a fundamental irregularity that goes to the roots. The Statement of Claim is not an originating proces ..." (Underlining mine for emphasis). 

Given the foregoing pronouncement in gold of the Supreme Court, it follows that the appellant's Amended Statement of Claim which sole defect touches on who, out of four listed counsel signed same, ought not be viewed as a fundamental defect and so capable of rendering same void. There is a signature on the process no doubt, just that the Court cannot pin-point the particular counsel out of the four that signed same. Aside from the confusion of who out of the four counsel signed the process, there is nothing on record to suggest that any of them is not a legal practitioner as envisaged by Sections 2(1) and 4 of the Legal Practitioners Act, 1975. 

In other words, any of the four listed counsel is qualified to sign the process and indeed the same was signed by one of them. It is worthy of note that the accepted or adopted practice, is for the signature to sit on top of the name of the signatory and in the case of multiple or listed number of counsel as is obtainable in firms of legal practitioners, the ticking of the name of the particular signatory." Per CORDELIA IFEOMA JOMBO-OFO, JCA (Pp 9 - 15 Paras B - C)

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