EXAMINATION OF THE FUNCTIONS OF PARALEGALS UNDER THE NIGERIAN LEGAL SYSTEM

EXAMINATION OF THE FUNCTIONS OF PARALEGALS UNDER THE NIGERIAN LEGAL SYSTEM

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ABSTRACT

The concept of paralegal though not a new one in developed region, it is a novel one within Africa particularly in Nigeria. They are legal adjuncts within the legal industry carrying out certain functions that are responsive to the need of the moment. It is important to note that they can only function under the supervision of a legal practitioner. The advent of this group in developed nations was to fill the gap that was existing in accessing justice and delivery of legal services particularly to indigent persons. In developing countries in Africa, several reasons have been advanced for the emergence of this group of professionals. The reoccurring and very prominent reasons is the need to provide access to justice and the delivery of legal services at a very affordable rate to the urban poor, indigent persons and rural populace. The research therefore examined paralegals and their function under the Nigerian Legal System, the history of this group, their role and relevance in the administration of justice and to the legal industry in Nigeria. The major challenge of awareness, recognition, and acceptability plaguing it was discussed. Another challenge of regulating these paraprofessionals was highlighted to reduce or remove completely the incidences of impersonation of lawyers. This highlighted the paradigm shift in the legal industry globally and the need to embrace this trend and ensure it is aligned to suit the Nigeria Legal system. Presently the norm in some African countries and in Nigeria is that paralegals function through nongovernmental organizations, though important to state that the Federal Government of Nigeria in the bid to widen tertiary education and promote vocational and technical education at that level established programmes /courses in that line one of which is National Innovation Diploma in Paralegal Studies. In view of the challenges identified, several recommendations were proffered such as the need for the Nigerian legal profession to be abreast with global practices since it cannot function in isolation and as such should accept and recognize the concept paralegalism within the legal profession. Members of the legal profession particularly the Nigerian Bar Association must ensure they seek to help this paraprofessionals realize the necessary legal backing needed and sensitize the public about them. The Nigerian Legal Council should take up the challenge of regulating these paraprofessionals who are legal service providers, setting code of conduct and adopting regulations that will protect the public and prevent unauthorized practice of law by non-lawyers within the legal industry. This will ensure proper regulation and control of the members of the paralegal profession.                            The     Judiciary should use paralegals as administrative staff; this will ensure speedy dispensation of justice. Particularly in rural areas, where they can be utilized as court interpreters where language seems to be a barrier.

CHAPTER ONE

1.0 GENERAL INTRODUCTION

1.1       BACKGROUND OF THE STUDY

Law has over time helped in reconstructing societies and determining the framework within

which a society and its people must work to ensure harmony, peace and reduction in conflict

of interest. Roscoe Pound opines that to reduce the conflict of interest the society must adopt

the force of social engineering. Law is social engineering, which means a balance between

the competing interests in society.1     Recently the postulation that law is an instrument of

social change has come to fore with the Nigerian society becoming more engaged in the

issues of justice and the need to access justice. Aderibigbe,O.I2 states that in recent times the

subject of law as an instrument of social change stands out in distinct lines as legal reforms in

Nigeria and all over the world has been at the centre of agenda of government, admitting the

fact that law, and its adequate enforcement, is imperative to the achievement of behavioral

change and social justice in a country.        The legal profession is therefore saddled with the

burden of ensuring that behavioral change and social justice are met. This task of providing

access to justice has relatively been unmet by members of the legal profession thus the

emergence of another group of social workers within the legal profession called Paralegals.

This work will not delve into the jurisprudence of the concept of law and social engineering

but will focus on Paralegalism as an emerging trend in Nigeria, a new trend within our clime.

1 Rao Shanker,C.N. (2000). Sociology Primary Principles 3rd ed, S.Chand & Company Ltd, New Delhi, p.155.

2 Aderibigbe,O.I. Law and Social Engineering; the Judiciary as a Catalyst Retrieved February 20, 2013 from http://segunaderibigbe.hubpages.com/hub/LAW-AND-SOCIAL ENGINEERING-the judiciary-as-a-catalyst.


A novel concept that is not well known to members of the legal profession and the public in

Nigeria. An euphemism that has received little or no recognition by the practitioners

themselves particularly practitioners on the job-experience ,such groups of persons are the

legal secretaries, court clerks, court registrars, law-librarians and so on who are non-lawyers

Members of the legal profession have also not recognized this group of persons known as

paralegals. This is so because previously the legal profession was highly conservative and as

such does not easily welcome intrusion or changes that will affect the fundamentals of the

legal industry. They had the nature that has long established monopoly in the legal market,

thus resisting and resenting any innovation that is likely to tamper with or alter the age long

approach to the practice of law. 3This nature consequently, made lawyers capture and control


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