A gateway for Nigeria’s leading lawyers? I don’t think so (Part 2)
Last week we started this offended issue over the lingering fear (albeit pretentious not to be expressed openly and publicly) that there are too many Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN). Based on this unproven and spurious fear, there appears to be a deliberate and sustained reduction, over the years, in the number of legal practitioners who are called to the bar, even after having met all the legal requirements and various criteria established for such elevation. I am also aware that this thesis obviously calls for a lively debate among lawyers and other stakeholders, for possible fundamental reforms in the mode of attribution and taking of this revered title. Today we will continue our speech on the above issue. Please read on.
SAN rank should never be awarded to lawyers of questionable character
Don’t get me wrong here, please. I am not advocating that undeserving jurists, or those with a bad temper or tarnished image, should be accorded this revered honor. No never. We should also never attribute it to those who have petitions pending before the LPDC or the courts. Such people can only be considered in the future when they have successfully defended themselves and been absolved of such allegations of professional misconduct or infamous conduct unbecoming of a lawyer.
Is SAN allocation a privilege or a right?
I am also fully aware that the allocation of the SAN rank is a simple privilege; not a right. This means that a candidate may still not be awarded the revered title, even if they have met all the defined criteria. A privilege is defined as “a special right, advantage or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group”. Some synonyms for privilege are advantage; benefit to; prerogative; law; birthright; of; Concession; law. A privilege is therefore weaker and less effective than a right. The latter can be executed; the first cannot be. Because, it remains what it is: a privilege.
Thus, the Oxford Dictionary defines a right “as a moral or legal claim to have or to obtain something or to behave in a particular way”. A right is therefore a right to something, as opposed to a simple privilege. This means that it is still within the discretion and prerogative of the LPPC to decide to admit a number much lower than those proposed as fully qualified. It is absolutely in his domain to decide so. And its decision, like any discretionary power, is not justiciable in any court.
The ongoing SAN award exercise
The SAN exercise underway by the LPPC has just completed the inspection of rooms / libraries, by a subcommittee of the LPPC. The exercise is still subject to paragraphs 4, 5 and 6 of the 2018 LPPC Guidelines, which allowed it to publish a Public Notice, made pursuant to subsections 12 (2) and 20 of the 2018 LPPC Guidelines. LPPC, in these paragraphs, as is customary, invited members of the public to comment, in 20 written copies, with an affidavit of verification, on “the integrity, reputation and competence of the aforementioned candidates”. Any such comments or complaints “must be received at the office of the Secretary, LPPC, no later than 4:00 PM Tuesday, September 28, 2021, or by email: [email protected]”.
Do not re-select the restricted list
My thesis is therefore simple. Any further subjective and selective winnowing of those who end up qualifying from this carefully screened pool is absolutely unnecessary. The selection, for example, of around 50 to 70 fully qualified candidates from the LIST PRESENTED above, after they have been found to be eminently qualified with distinction, becomes discriminatory.
Some unhealthy and unwritten criteria
At this level, it is no longer excellence or distinction that is at stake, as the members of the shortlist had already fulfilled all the criteria and had been deemed qualified by the LPPC itself after its screening, its opinion public and its inspection Rooms / Library. It becomes a contradiction in terms for the same LPPC to again reject candidates that it itself has deemed fully qualified to take the silk. It is here, perhaps, that other inappropriate considerations and unfair criteria of the much abused quota system and “sponsorship” creep in. And that is, with all due respect, what I am against.
These confusing factors are apparently rooted in unwritten considerations of the language; religion; status; Place of birth; richness; political opinion; Exercice place; State of origin; station in life; tribal ties; cut in section; pedigree; the social or political influence of the applicant’s parents, siblings or classmates; if and if the applicant’s place of origin or exercise had been allocated slots the previous year; if the applicant is flamboyant; reluctant; recluse; or highly publicized; etc., etc. I thought that all of this had already been carefully considered before the screening? Why, again, after the shortlist? I cannot understand this. Or, can you?
Avoid impending discrimination
In my humble opinion, these hidden and unwritten criteria are absolutely unnecessary, superfluous, unnecessary, redundant and gratuitous. They constitute nothing but pure discrimination, unlike Articles 16 (2) and 41 (1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution; Articles 2, 3 and 20 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; and, Article 2 of the UNDHR, 1948.
Nigerian courts have easily interpreted the law against discrimination as a shield that can be used by people to prevent them from being denied their rights and benefits. In OKOYE & ORS v NWAVU & ORS (2003) LPELR-12330 (CA), the Intermediate Court ruled, on the right to non-discrimination, as follows:
“Allow me to comment briefly on the application of Articles 39 (1) and (2) of the 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. This provision of our grundnorm, then in vogue, is against discrimination based on place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion held. Section 39 (2), which is more relevant here, reads: “39 (2) No Nigerian citizen shall be subjected to disability or deprivation simply by reason of the circumstances of his birth”. I must repeat here once again, that the authors of our Constitution have a very big heart. They are very accommodating. They know the specifics of our regime. In the same vein, interpreting the same thing, a judge must have a big heart. He should be accommodating, since he also knows the peculiarities of our regime … If a foreign element in a society acquires a legal right and there is an attempt to dislodge it, he may take offense under the provision. above the Constitution ”(coram JOHN AFOLABI FABIYI, JCA (Pp 15 – 17, Paras A – A).
See also the case of ALAJEMBA UKE & ANOR v. ALBERT IRO (2001) LPELR-6964 (CA).
There’s no front door anywhere
I strongly disagree with the apparent fear that there would be an unlimited flow of new entrants, if all qualified candidates were admitted to the Internal Bar at once at a given time. When, for example, 100 qualified applicants in a given year receive the silk, they will never apply again. The recurring Backlog folder will disappear. Indeed, I foresee like Nostradamus (the man who saw tomorrow), that there may be a few years when there are no candidates who are sufficiently qualified to apply. Indeed, more than 90% of candidates, year after year, are simply retrained. These are those who had been refused the serial rank in previous years. Even if we were to have 100 new SANs every year, that would still represent barely 1000 SANs in 10 full years. For a population projected by the UN of 212,627,048 as of October 11, 2021, this would still represent a single SAN for 212,627 Nigerian citizens. Is it a loose valve? I do not think so. I will speak to this issue again later.
What is the SAN ranking?
The prestigious honorary rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) is a title conferred on Nigerian jurists who have distinguished themselves and distinguished themselves in legal practice. It is the highest honor obtainable in the legal profession by any lawyer and is equivalent to the rank of Queen’s Counsel (QC) or “King’s Council” (KC) (during the reign of a king. ) in the United Kingdom. SAN rank is also equivalent to Senior Counsel (not in the sense of its literal use in Nigeria to suggest an experienced lawyer), State Counsel, Senior Advocate, and President’s Advocate, in other parts of the world.
The rank of SAN is therefore the pinnacle of the professional career of each lawyer and a position which confers special privileges on a lawyer who has practiced for at least ten years at the Nigerian bar; and has made exemplary contributions to the legal profession. Prior to 1975, the rank of Queen’s Counsel (QC) was still awarded to distinguished Nigerians, even after our flag’s independence from English colonial rule in 1960. SAN, by empowering the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee ( LPPC) to confer such a title on lawyers deemed so qualified. The history of the awarding of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria to individuals dates back to April 3, 1975, when the title was first conferred on Chief FRA Williams and Dr Nabo Graham-Douglas, for their outstanding and remarkable contributions to the early stages of the legal profession.
SAN tier privileges
The privileges attached to the rank of SAN are more statutory than conventional (as in the United Kingdom). These privileges are provided for in Section 5 (7) of the Legal Practitioners Act, 1975, and Nigeria’s Lead Lawyer Rules (Duties and Privileges), 1979. These privileges are mainly three in number:
1. The right to wear a silk robe
2. The right to sit at the indoor bar or in the front row. Tradition has it that while lawyers are called to the “External Bar”, SANs are called to the “Internal Bar” and therefore sit on the Internal Bar. Traditionally, British courts had domestic bars specially reserved for legal practitioners who had attained the rank of QC. But, UK courts no longer have domestic bars, as do most (if not all) courts around the world. Rather, the practice is that SANs sit in the first row (generally referred to as the “inside bar”) whenever a SAN appears in court.
3.The right to mention cases in turn.
Section 5 (8) of the Legal Practitioners Act, 1975 prohibits a SAN from practicing other than as a lawyer. Apart from this restriction, there does not appear to be any other statutory restriction imposed on the rank of SAN. By convention, however, a SAN is required to appear with a junior lawyer, a practice retained by QCs in England and Nigeria during colonial times. However, QCs in the UK have long since abandoned this custom, as they can now appear in court without a junior lawyer. (To be continued)
Serious and banal
“Honestly, seeing what Qatar and Saudi Arabia are doing with their oil money, I wonder if Nigeria is selling coconut oil. “- Anonymous
THOUGHT OF THE WEEK
“Realize that: the privilege of working is a gift, the power to work is a blessing, the love of work is success! (David O. McKay)