The functions of the Commission are spelt out in section 5 (1) of the Act in the following terms:

It shall be the duty of the Commission generally to take and keep under review all Federal laws with a view to their systematic and progressive development and reform in consonance with the prevailing norms of the Nigerian society including, in particular, the codification of such laws, the elimination of anomalies, the repeal of obsolete, spent and unnecessary enactments, the reduction in number of separate enactments, the reform of procedural laws in consonance with changes in the machinery of the administration of justice and generally, the simplification and modernization of the law.

In pursuance of its general mandate, under subsection (2) of section 5 of the Act, the Commission –

  1. shall receive and consider any proposals for the reform of the law which may be made or referred to it by the Attorney-General of the Federation (hereinafter referred to as “the Attorney-General”);
  2. may prepare on its own initiative and submit to the National Council of Ministers, from time to time, programmes for the examination of different branches of the laws with a view to reform;
  3. shall undertake, pursuant to any such recommendations approved by the National Council of Ministers, the examination of particular braches of the law and the formulation, by means of draft legislation or otherwise, or proposals for reform therein;
  4. shall prepare, from time to time at the request of the Attorney-General, comprehensive programmes of consolidation and stature law revision, and undertake the preparation of draft legislation pursuant to any such programme approved;
  5. may provide advice and information to Federal Government departments and other authorities or bodies concerned, at the instance of the Federal Government, with proposals for the reform or amendment of any branch of the law.

For the purpose of the efficient performance of its functions under this Act, the Commission is autonomous in its day-to-day operations and may from time to time; obtain such information about the legal systems of other countries as appears to it likely to facilitate the performance of any such function. The Commission may conduct such seminars and, where appropriate hold such public sittings concerning any programme for law reform, as it may consider necessary from time to time. Section 7 of the Act also allows the Commission to consider proposals from any State or group of States or its own initiative consider or put forward proposals for the consideration of States’ Attorney-General, aimed at reforming State laws.

The Commission was established in 1979 as the primary and independent law reform agency for the Federation.

Prior to its establishment, various government departments conducted, as and when necessary, reform exercises, mainly through the agency of ad-hoc committees and commissions (which practice still continues to date). This arrangement however did not adequately confront the task of law reform, particularly in the following four circumstances:-

  1. where the subject of reform may not readily fall under the responsibility of one particular government department;
  2. where the subject of reform raises an issue over which the government or a government department and stake holders in that subject or the general public take contending positions or an issue over which two or more government departments take different position, as to the desired reform, and only a dispassionate consideration of the contending positions on the issue by an independent agency could facilitate the reform of that subject.
  3. where the subject of reform involves issues, which go beyond the ordinary business or government.
  4. Where the subject of reform requires the devotion of considerable time and in-depth research into the subject over a considerable length of time.

Thus it was necessary to establish an independent and permanent body, which would generally take and keep under review all Federal Laws with a view to their systematic and progressive development and reform.

The establishment of the Commission has given impetus to the creation of similar agencies at State level and the Commission has also been playing a vital role in the reform of state laws, particularly in the following circumstances:-

  1. i. where the subject of reform is a law common to some or all of the states and it is more convenient and economical for the Commission to conduct a single reform exercise, rather that for each of the states to embark upon its own reform. For example, the Commission conducted a reform of Pre-1900 English Statues of General Application and prepared twenty-draft model Laws that have been enacted by many of the states;
  2. ii. where the subject of reform is an area where uniformity of legislation among the States is desirable and there is need for a model Law that the States could adopt. For example, in 1984 the Commission produced the Uniform High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules for State High Courts, which a good number of States have either adopted wholesale or substantially.

In all these cases, it is most likely that reform of the law would have been achieved without the Commission’s intervention.
The particular strengths of the Commission are:

  1. It is independent in its operations and objective in its examination of the facts and the law on any reform proposal it handles.
  2. Its Commissioners are eminent Jurists of many years standing from such diverse backgrounds as the Bench, the Bar and the Academia, who will bring to bear on the work of the Commission, their vast and varied experiences.
  3. The Commission has on its staff, a team of full time Law Research Officers providing research support and assistance to the Commissioners.
  4. The Commission maintains an appreciable medium size Law Library with 25,000 volumes of Books and Journals and it provides the information required in fulfilling the statutory objectives of law reform activities. This includes:
    • Provision of reference and referral services
    • Loan services
    • Selection and acquisition of legal and allied materials
    • Inter library loan
    • Current Awareness Service
    • Readers Services
    • Book preparation – cataloguing and classification
    • Up-dating of statutes to mention a few

The Library stock contains core collection of Nigerian and foreign legal Materials and publications of law reform agencies Worldwide.

  1. The Commission adopts a participatory method of law reform and consults widely with stakeholders in all its reform exercises. In line with the said approach, the Commission has always invited the general public to its Workshops and also circulates its publications widely to ensure that people are adequately informed of its activities and reform proposals.
  2. The Commission also acts as a rallying point for State Law Reform Agencies in the review and reform of State laws and the promotion of uniformity in the Nation’s laws. For example, in the areas of Wills, Administration of Estates, Adoption, marriage, Bill of Sales Contracts, Infants, Landlord and Tenant, married Women property, Trustees, Sales of Goods’ etc.
  3. The Commission’s Report and Discussion or Workshop Papers are published and widely circulated and made freely available to the public upon request;

The Commission is in constant touch with other law agencies, which exist in almost all the Commonwealth countries and is abreast of developments in law reform in other jurisdiction. There is reciprocal exchange of reports and papers which constitute an invaluable research tool.