The term profession has been defined by so many scholars, writers and teachers. Hence, I have also decided to make an attempt at defining or describing the term profession.
A profession can be defined as a vocation or occupation, which requires a certain amount of training in a specialized field of learning and has a standard which its members must conform to, so as to ensure the safety of public and dignity of the profession.
In Nigeria, there are so many professions and they are recognized by the law. Hence, by virtue of No. 49, of the Exclusive list contained in Part I Second Schedule of 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the National Assembly make laws for professional bodies. In this write up, two professions would be examined while our main focus would be on their discipline mechanism. These two professions are; the legal profession and the pharmacy profession.
In a quick breath, I will quickly examine why these two falls under the category of profession.
The legal profession and pharmacy are both fields of specialized field of studies.
The collective body of the legal profession is called Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and that of pharmacy is called Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN).
The legal profession requires a total of six years of intense training and pharmacy a total of five years.
Both bodies have a standard which its members must conform to and it is this area that this write up centers on.
This article aims to discuss by way of comparison and contrasting, the mechanism of discipline of both profession.
ESTABLISHMENT OF THE PROFESSIONS
As earlier said, the National Assembly by virtue of Section 4 of 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has the power to make laws for the nation. Part 1 Second schedule of the 1999 constitution contains a list of all the areas the legislatures could legislate on and number 49 on that list is PROFESSION. We have established that law is a profession so also is the pharmacy.
The Legal Practitioners Act contains the laws guiding the structure and nature of the legal profession. Pharmacists Council of Nigeria Act contains the laws guiding the establishment, way and manner in which the pharmacists are to conduct their affairs and operations.
DISCIPLINARY BODY OF THE LEGAL PROFESSION
Section 11 of the Legal Practitioners Act established the disciplinary body of the legal profession. Section 11(1) provides that;
There shall be a committee of the Body of Benchers to be known as the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (hereafter in this Act referred to as the ‘disciplinary committee’) which shall be charged with the duty of considering and determining any case where it is alleged that a person whose name is on the roll has misbehaved in his capacity as a legal practitioner or should for any other reason be the subject of proceedings under this Act.
Subsection 2 of section 11provides for the composition of the committee.
The disciplinary committee shall consist of-
(a)a chairman who shall not be either the Chief Justice of Nigeria or a Justice of the Supreme Court;
(b)two Justices of the Court of Appeal one of whom shall be the President of the Court of Appeal;
(c)two Chief Judges;
(d)two Attorneys-General, who shall be either the Attorney-General of the Federation and the Attorney- General of a State or two State Attorneys-General; and
(e)four members of the association who are not connected with either the investigation of a complaint or the decision by the association to present a complaint against a legal practitioner for determination by the disciplinary committee..
Further instructions as to the conduct of the disciplinary committee are contained in the Second Schedule of the Act.
DISCIPLINARY BODY OF THE PHARMACY PROFESSION
Pharmacists Council of Nigeria Act, Section 17 established the disciplinary body of the profession.
Section 17(1) provides thus;
There shall be established a tribunal to be known as Pharmacists Council of Nigeria Disciplinary Tribunal (in this Act referred to as ‘the tribunal’)which shall be charged with the duty of considering any case referred to it by the Investigating Panel established by subsection (3) of this section and any other case of which the Tribunal has cognizance under the following provision.
Subsection (2) provides for the composition of the committee;
The Tribunal shall consist of the chairman of the council and six other members of the council appointed by the council.
Subsection (3) further provides for the duties of the Investigating Panel(referred to as ‘the Panel’) which is mainly to investigate allegations brought against any pharmacist.
Subsection (4) provides for the composition of the panel;
The Panel shall be appointed by the Council and shall consist of four members of the Council and one member who is not a member of the Council.
JUXTAPOSING THE LEGAL PRACTITIONERS DISCIPLINARY COMMITTEE AND THE PHARMACISTS COUNCIL OF NIGERIA DISCIPLINARY TRIBUNAL
For the purpose of ease, the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee will be referred to as disciplinary committee while the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria Disciplinary Tribunal will be referred to as the disciplinary tribunal.
The disciplinary tribunal has a body which handles investigations; this body is the Investigative Panel. The panel conducts preliminary investigations when there is an allegation against any pharmacist. This body conducts investigation and it decides whether the case should be referred to the disciplinary tribunal, however the disciplinary committee has no body that conducts its preliminary investigation, it is not stated in the Legal Practitioners Act, though over the time, the Nigeria Bar Association sometimes does the preliminary investigation for the disciplinary committee. However, the disciplinary committee and disciplinary tribunal can independently call on any of its members when there is any allegation against such person.
There are three types of offences established in both Acts, which both disciplinary bodies could try any of its alleged member for. The offences are the same and can be found in Section 12(1) of the Legal Practitioners Act and in Section 18(1) of the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria Act. The offences are as follows;
Infamous conduct in any professional respect
Any member who has been convicted by any court in Nigeria having power to award imprisonment, of an offence which in the opinion of the disciplinary body is incompatible with their profession.
However, the punishments that could be awarded when the alleged member is found guilty by the disciplinary bodies differ. The disciplinary committee by virtue of Section 12(1)(c)(i-iii)Legal Practitioners Act; when a member of the legal profession is found guilty of any of the above offences, the committee may if it thinks fit, give a direction;
(i)Ordering the registrar to strike that person’s name off the roll, or
(ii)Suspending that person from practice by ordering him not to engage
in practice as a legal practitioners for such period as may be specified in the direction, or
(iii)Admonishing the person.
The disciplinary tribunal by virtue of Section (18)(1)Pharmacists Council of Nigeria Act, if found that a member is guilty of any other offences contain in earlier stated subsection may;
the Tribunal may, if it thinks fit, give a direction reprimanding that person or ordering the Registrar to strike his name off the relevant part of the register.
From the above, it is clear that while the disciplinary committee could mete out three variants of punishment, the disciplinary tribunal could only mete out two variants. In a way, the measure by the disciplinary tribunal is too extreme, it is either you are reprimanded or you are out, compared to that of the legal profession, where suspension is a possibility and can therefore serve as a mid-way-kind of punishment.
Another striking similarity can be found in the Legal Practitioners Act Section (12)(3) and Section(18)(2)(c) of the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria Act, which implies that anyone who was not present at the meeting where the decision to defer a case for a later time was reached and cannot be member when such deferred issue is to be heard. However, while the decision in an issue could be defer for not more than two years (Section (18)(2)(b)) in the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria Act, there is no such time limit in the case of the disciplinary committee.
In order to ensure fairness, the bar council is charged with the responsibility of making rules from time to time on professional conduct in the legal profession and cause such rules to be published in the Gazette and distributed to all branches of the association (Section (12)(4) of the Legal Practitioners Act). There is however, no such thing or provision in the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria Act, which means that members of the profession might not even be aware of a new rule or regulation in place.
It is no doubt that, disciplinary issues are quasi-criminal in nature, hence by virtue of the Legal Practitioners Act Section (12)(5) and the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria Act, Section(18)(3), any member standing trial must be presumed innocent and not treated as convicted unless the conviction stands at a time when no appeal or further appeal is pending or may(without extension of time) be brought in connection with conviction. Section (12)(6) of the Legal Practitioners Act and Section(18)(4) of the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria Act provides that where the disciplinary bodies gives any direction as to the punishment to be mete out on the alleged member, such member must be served with the notice of direction. Hence, when such person has been served the notice of direction, both Act (Section (12)(7)of the Legal Practitioners Act and Section(18)(5) of the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria Act) states that such person may within 28 days(from the day he received the notice) appeal against the direction of the disciplinary body.
However, under the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria Act Section (18)(5), appeal may be made to the Federal High Court but this is different for legal practitioners. Before now, a legal practitioner could appeal to the Appeal Committee of the Body of Benchers, but since the abolishment of the body, appeal goes to the Supreme Court. This means that any legal practitioner not satisfied with the decision of the disciplinary committee, will have to make his or her appeal to the Supreme Court within 28days. Looking at this critically, it means an erring pharmacists has more chance of appeal that an erring legal practitioner. An erring pharmacist appeal to the Federal High Court, if not satisfied, he goes to the Court of Appeal and if not still satisfied, he can still appeal to the Supreme Court, making three chances of appeal while an erring legal practitioner has only once chance of appeal. This might mean injustice for the erring legal practitioner, as his chance of appeal is limited.
Section(12)(8) of the Legal Practitioners Act also provides that where no appeal is made within 28 days or if such appeal is withdrawn or stuck out or dismissed, then the direction given by the disciplinary committee shall take effect, a similar provision is contained in Section(18)(6) of the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria Act. Section(18)(7-8) of the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria Act provides that a person whose name has been struck off the register as a result of the disciplinary tribunal’s direction shall not be entitled to be registered again except, the disciplinary tribunal gives a direction on behalf of the person’s application and the person might be banned from making an application within a specified time, same privilege is given in Section(13)(1) of the Legal Practitioners Act only that such application must be duly made to the Supreme Court or the disciplinary committee and the court or the disciplinary committee may give an order that no application must be made by the person for specified period, (Section(13)(2) of the Legal Practitioners Act).
Where a direction is given to a legal practitioner standing trial, to refund money paid to him or handing over of documents or any other thing, if he fails to comply within twenty eight days of such direction, the disciplinary committee may deal with the case as one involving misconduct by the legal practitioner in his professional capacity (Section (12)(9) of the Legal Practitioners Act).
A very great difference in the disciplinary mechanism of legal practitioners and pharmacists is the fact that the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the Supreme Court can also exercise disciplinary power over erring members, asides from the disciplinary committee. This means, that an erring legal practitioner can face disciplinary actions from the disciplinary committee, the Chief Justice of Nigeria by virtue of Section(13)(2) of the Legal Practitioners Act and the Supreme Court by virtue of Section(13)(1) of the Legal Practitioners Act. The Supreme Court if it appears to it that a person whose name is on the roll is guilty of infamous conduct in any professional respect with regard to any matter of which the court or any other court of record in Nigeria is or has been seized, the Supreme Court may after hearing and if found guilty may give a direction that such person’s name be struck off or suspended or admonished. The Chief Justice where it appears to him may suspend a legal practitioner from practice either with a view to instituting against him proceedings under the Act before the disciplinary Committee or while such proceedings are pending. The Chief Justice must however allow such person a fair hearing.
From the above, it is obvious, that a legal practitioners are subject to discipline by three bodies while pharmacists are only such to discipline by one body. In a way, disciplinary mechanism in the legal profession is stricter than the one in the pharmacy profession though they share certain similarities as already examined above.
Oyekan Oluwaseun O