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Can a Law Firm Sign a Legal Process?

Posted in Case Summaries, Civil Procedure2 months ago • Written by Y Edinam Cofie1 Comment

The High Court presided over by Justice Bright Mensah held, in “In the matter of Kaneshie Drivers
Association and in the matter of an application by James Danful Paul Egyam, John Donkor and Samuel Cofie pursuant to s.217, s. 218 and s. 162 of the Companies Act”[1]
 that a law firm is not competent to sign a court process.

The Respondents in the instant application instituted an action by an originating motion on notice by their solicitors. Even though the process commencing the action was signed, the signature appearing on the process was that of a law firm, “Ampem Chambers” and not the name of a lawyer admitted to the Ghana Bar. The relevant portion of the legal process complained of read:

“Dated at Ampem Chambers, No. 15 Kade Avenue, Kanda

Estates, Accra, this 6th day of April 2015.

 

(Sgd) Ampem Chambers

Barristers & Solicitors

(Lawyers for the Applicants)”

The Applicant made an application to the court to dismiss the action filed by the Respondent. The Applicant argued that under the Legal Profession Act, 1960 (Act 32) only professional lawyers properly licensed by the General Legal Council could practice law and may suffer the sanctions imposed by law for non-compliance with Act 32. Consequently, the processes filed in court ought to be filed by a lawyer and not a law firm. A perusal of the processes filed by the Respondents, however, revealed that even though the process was signed, the signature was that of a law firm and not the name of a lawyer admitted to the Ghana Bar. Consequently, insofar as the processes were authored by a law firm in breach of Act 32, the court could not grant recognition to the processes filed.

The Respondents, in response, contended that Act 32 should be read to take account of partnerships and sole proprietorships so that there is no distinction between the lawyer and the law firm. After all, the law firm is a partnership of lawyers. The Respondent stressed that because the General Legal Council was encouraging lawyers to form law firms and have the firms registered, the court should construe “lawyer” in Act 32 to include partnerships or law firms. The Respondent further contended that even if there was an error or omission regarding the process filed, the error was made bona fide and could be cured by way of amendment – which will not occasion any injustice on the Applicant. At worse, the Applicant may be compensated with costs.

The Court held that that “a person” in the context of sections 2[2], 8[3] and 43(1)[4] of Act 32 meant a natural person. The process complained of in this case indicated that “Ampem Chambers” were the lawyers for the Applicants. Consequently, though “Ampem Chambers” may be a registered law firm, it is not a person registered on the roll of lawyers to practice law as such. “Ampem Chambers” is not a legal practitioner within the meaning of Ss 2 and 43(provision of the law that deals with endorsements of legal documents) of the Legal Professional Act, 1960 (Act 32).

With regard to Counsel for Respondent’s argument that (i) the definition of a lawyer be construed liberally to include law firms because the General Legal Council is encouraging registration of law firms and (ii) if at all there is an error or omission regarding the process filed, it was made bona fide and that the error can be cured by way of amendment, the court held as follows:

“Indeed, I recognize the attractiveness of the argument of Counsel. However, it is now a settled rule that in law there is nothing like symbiosis whereby an illegal process can become legal by its association with a legal one. Therefore, one cannot clothe an illegality with a symbiosis of legality. The insistence of the General Legal Council on registration of legal firms is basically to ensure that the activities of lawyers are regulated in terms of the law. With utmost respect to learned Counsel for the Applicants, the registration of the firm, therefore, does not clothe it with the power to sign legal documents/process. It is my judgment that a legal practitioner shall sign all legal processes and or documents but reserves the right to put his chambers stamp thereon to indicate the chambers/office from which the legal process/document was prepared.”

The Learned Judge further stated: “I am not unmindful of the principle that an amendment may be admitted to any pleadings or process at any time of the proceedings and even after judgment. Significantly, even on appeal amendment may be allowed. However, the settled rule is that one cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand. According to Lord Denning, that thing shall surely fall. Amendment may be allowed only if the process/pleadings seeking to be amended is itself legitimate. If it is not, amendment cannot be allowed.”

On the question of whether a suit filed in violation of Act 32 could be cured by amendment, the court stressed that amendments are only allowed in respect of proper legal suits and processes filed before the court. However, since the process filed in the case by the Respondent was illegitimate and fundamentally flawed, no amendment could save it and or clothe it with legality. The court thus dismissed the suit as not properly before the court.

[1] Suit No. AP 127/2015

[2]S.2 of the Legal Professional Act, 1960 (Act 32) provides:
A person whose name is entered on the Roll kept under section 6 (a) is entitled, subject to section 8, to practise as a lawyer, whether as a barrister or solicitor or both, and to sue for and recover the fees, charges and  disbursements for services rendered as a lawyer,
and
(b) is an officer of the Courts, and
(c) is subject, when acting as a lawyer, to the liabilities that attach by law
to a solicitor.”

[3] S.8 of Act 32 states: “(1) A person, other than the Attorney-General, or an officer of Attorney- General’s department, shall not practise as a solicitor unless that person has in respect of that practice a valid annual solicitor’s licence issued by the Council duly stamped and in the form set out in the Second Schedule.”

[4] S.43(1) of Act 32 as follows:
“A person who draws or prepares a legal document for reward shall endorse or cause to be endorsed on the document the name and address of that person.”

1 Comment so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Kwadwo Owusu Agyeman May 22, 2018 at 8:57 pm - Reply

    This decision is fortified by the judgment of Asiedu J, High Court Accra, Commercial Division in the Tony Lithur case which held that only a person licenced to practice law by the General Legal Council can represent a client and thus sue to recover legal fees, not a law firm or the chambers from which the lawyer may practise from.

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