Emechebe vs Ceto Int’l Ltd: Expired NBA Stamp doesn’t void court processes – Court

“The originating processes were duly signed and stamped by the learned counsel for the Respondent, and a stamp of the legal practitioner affixed even though expired, in my view, there is no sufficient basis to strike out the said processes. So doing in my view will amount to pushing technicalities too far.”

Notes:

What happened in the case was that the Respondent, as Plaintiff, filed an action at the Federal High Court, Lagos against the Appellant on claims bordering on unauthorised use of a registered trademark. The Respondent secured some restraining orders against the Appellant following which the Appellant appealed against the Ruling granting the said orders at the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division. Among other contentions of the Appellant’s counsel was the argument that the stamp and seal of the Respondent’s counsel affixed to the Respondent’s originating processes had expired and that the implication is that no stamp or seal was affixed, and therefore the said processes were irregular. He concluded that the lower court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit. In response, the Respondent submitted that the use of the expired seal was an error by counsel and that the counsel had unexpired seal in existence as at that time as evidenced by a subsequent application filed by the Respondent’s counsel. The Appellant further argued that at the time of filing the appeal whereupon the objection was raised, the Respondent never filed an application to affix a valid seal in order to regularise the anomaly and that as such, the suit ought to be struck out or dismissed.

Abubakar, JCA, in delivering the Leading Judgment, took time to consider the submissions. His Lordship made the above quoted remarks and reiterated that it is settled that failure to even affix the approved seal and stamp of the NBA on a process does not render the process void as same is an irregularity which can be regularised by an application for extension of time and a deeming order (Nyesom v. Peterside [2016] 7 NWLR (Pt. 1512) 452). His Lordship further reasoned at p. 534, paras. E-F:

“Since the originating processes contain a stamp which bears the name and number of the counsel who filed the said processes and it is not that the Respondent had failed to affix any stamp at all, and even if the Appellant’s contention is upheld herein, it is at best an irregularity, which can be remedied by affixing the unexpired stamp and seal, which from the records before us, learned counsel for the Respondent no doubt has, having been clearly affixed to other applications filed at the lower court. Since the material constitutes part of the records before us, I am bound to take judicial notice and hold that the submission of learned counsel for the Appellant on this point lacks merit and must be and is hereby discountenanced by me.”

Other Justices on the panel (Ikyegh and Ogakwu JJCA) agreed with the Lead Judgment.

Thus, as clearly seen from the above, the Court of Appeal recognised the fact that if there are other processes in the court’s file or record having a valid unexpired stamp affixed, the court is bound to take judicial notice of same. In commending the Court of Appeal in this case, it is our position that the Court showed its full grasp of the true rationale behind the stamp and seal in the first place which, as clearly identified by Abubakar, JCA, is:

“To ensure that legal practitioners who file processes in court have their names on the roll of legal practitioners in Nigeria and that quacks, impostors and meddlesome interlopers do not infiltrate the legal profession and present themselves to litigants as legal practitioners.”

Therefore, it is submitted that an expired stamp does not defeat this purpose as same still undoubtedly identifies the legal practitioner. As such, it would amount to allowing the undue triumph of technicality if the use of an expired seal is held to nullify a court process altogether. It should not be so.

It is must be noted that, on a careful look, the Court has not by this decision encouraged the use of expired seals without more, counsel must ensure that remedial steps are taken where necessary, ex abundanti cautela.

It is our view that this case further calls to question the practice of the NBA in issuing stamps which are capable of expiration to legal practitioners in Nigeria. There is no where in the Rules of Professional Conduct where it was provided that the stamp to be issued should be meant to expire. The NBA came up with the initiative as, perhaps, the easiest means of ensuring that legal practitioners pay their practising fees and dues and of course, to generate revenue for the Association.

 

Credit: Ask the Lawyer Facebook page

 

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