Law

Disquiet over N1m SAN application fee

Lawyers express mixed feelings over new fee

 

TUNDE OYESINA writes on the controversies trailing the N1 million application fee for the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) recently announced by the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC)

 

Controversies have continued to trail the N1 million application fee announced by the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) in its 2023 Application Guidelines to be paid by lawyers aspiring to be Senior Advocates of Nigeria. Aside taking exception to the increase from N600,000 to N1,000,000, some lawyers have particularly queried the rationale behind the fee given the disparity in earnings among lawyers and how the new fee will exclude eminently qualified ones from attaining the coveted rank.

However, some lawyers were of the views that the new fee is in order, as only those that are wellqualified and hardworking should be entitled to the rank. Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) is a title that may be conferred on legal practitioners in Nigeria of not less than ten years in practice and who have distinguished themselves in the legal profession. It is the equivalent of the rank of Queen’s Counsel in the United Kingdom, from which Nigeria became independent in 1960 (Republic 1963), as well as in South Australia, the Northern Territory, and Canada (except Ontario and Quebec).

Several other countries use similar designations such as Senior Counsel, President’s Counsel, State Counsel, Senior Advocate and President’s Advocate. A Senior Advocate of Nigeria is said to have been admitted to the “Inner Bar”, as distinguished from the “Outer” or “Utter” Bar, consisting of Junior Advocates.

The conferment is made in accordance with the Legal Practitioners Act 207 Section 5 (1) by the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee, headed by the Chief Justice (as Chairman), and consist of the Attorney-General, one Justice of the Supreme Court (chosen by the Chief Justice and the Attorney-General for a term of two years, renewable on one occasion only), the President of the Court of Appeal, five of the Chief Judges of the States (chosen by the Chief Justice and the Attorney-General for a term of two years, renewable on one occasion only), the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, and five legal practitioners who are Senior Advocates of Nigeria (chosen by the Chief Justice and the Attorney- General for a term of two years, renewable on one occasion only).

For the appointment of the rank of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, the application is usually considered without regards to ethnic origin, pedigree, physical disability, marital status, age, religious beliefs, political views or affiliations as provided in Section 2(b) of the Act, rather the evaluation of the applicant’s competence will be based on his integrity, opinion of judges, general knowledge of the law, contribution to the development of law, leadership qualities, strength and quality of reference received by the applicant, etc, as stated in Section 16(2) of the Act. The title was first conferred on April 3, 1975.

The recipients were Chief F.R.A. Williams and Dr. Nabo Graham-Douglas. As of July 7, 2011, 344 lawyers had become Senior Advocates of Nigeria. Chief (Mrs.) Folake Solanke is the first female recipient of the rank of SAN, six years after in 1981. Since 1975, a varying number of advocates in Nigeria have consecutively been conferred with the rank, with the exception of three years- 1976, 1977 and 1994.

The conferment is however restricted to fewer than 30 advocates per annum and is made by the Chief Justice of Nigeria on the recommendations of the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee. The appointment into the rank of SAN is not without benefits . Such benefits are ; “An appointed SAN has the exclusive right to sit in the inner bar of the courtroom. “An appointed SAN has the right to mention any motion in which he is appearing or any other cause or matter for mention out of turn.

“He has the right to wear a silk gown.The appointed SAN is not to appear before courts in civil processes without a junior colleague or another SAN. “The appointed SAN cannot settle pleadings before an inferior court. He cannot draft legal documents.

“The process of appointment includes an oral interview conducted by the LPPC at the final stage of selection to enable the Committee to verify the information provided in the application forms and to also ascertain the applicant’s competence in conformity with Section 5 of the Act”.

However, there are also provisions for the withdrawal of the said appointment . The appointment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria can be withdrawn at any time by the LPPC based on Section 22 of the Regulations. This can happen when a SAN has been adjudged by the LPPC to have conducted himself in a manner incompatible with the dignity and honour of the rank and when the SAN is found guilty of professional misconduct by the LPPC.

Furthermore, the silk rank can be withdrawn when the appointed SAN is convicted by a court of law for any offence which in the opinion of the LPPC is incompatible with the honour and dignity of the holder of the rank such as an offence relating to a breach of trust, theft, fraud or dishonesty.

N1m application fee

However, setting the stage for this year’s appointment, the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) on January 3, 2023, opened invitations for lawyers to apply for the 2023 award for the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria at N1 million per applicant. The LPPC, in a notice issued by its Secretary/Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Hajo Bello, stated that the purchase of the application which began on January 1 will end on March 31, 2023.

In the notice obtained by New Telegraph Law, it was stated that the invitation was in accordance with the provisions of Section 5(2) of the Legal Practitioners Act, Cap L11 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 and Regulation 10 (1) (4) of the Guidelines for the Conferment of the Rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria 2022.

The notice reads: ”The Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (the LPPC” or “the Committee”) hereby makes a formal call for applications preparatory to the award of the rank for the year 2023. “Commencing with this year’s exercise, applications shall only be made online and prospective applicants are directed to visit www.lppconline.com to make their applications

“Prospective applicants must pay a non-refundable processing fee of N1,000. 000.00 only to any of their bank accounts. “Only clear copies of materials presented shall be considered/ acceptable by the Secretariat in compliance with Regulation 9(2) of the Guidelines.

In the case of Academic applicants who may wish to submit publications that are too voluminous to be conveniently scanned and uploaded, it shall be sufficient to scan and upload the title page of such publications, whilst submitting the hard copies along with the flash drives referred to in clause 25 below.

“After uploading copies of all mandatory or supporting documents online, applicants shall also submit five flash drives containing a copy of their completed application form (to be downloaded from the online portal) as well as copies of all the mandatory and supporting documents uploaded on the online platform to the LPPC Secretariat.

“Any application together with supporting documents submitted in a manner contrary to the directives of the LPPC as enumerated above will be rejected by the Secretariat. “All applications together with their mandatory or supporting documents must be submitted online at www.lppconline.com before 12:00 noon on March 31, 2023, whilst the flash drives referred to in clause 25 above must be delivered to the LPPC Secretariat before 4:00 pm on April 3, 2023. “Upon conclusion of payment, an applicant should upload a copy of the evidence of payment on the application portal.

The applicant will receive an email notification from the LPPC Secretariat confirming the applicant’s payment and clearing the applicant to proceed with the application process online. Any submission made after the deadlines shall be treated as a non-submission”.

The 2016 Federal Government’s official Gazette updated in 2018 for the appointment of SANs listed the criteria for which candidates’ competence shall be based on and other qualifications.

Section 16 (2) of the Act stiplates as follows: Integrity – 20 percent; Opinion of judges and the strength of references received by candidates -20 percent; General knowledge of law – 25 percent; Contribution to the development of law – 10 percent; Leadership qualities in the profession – 10 percent; and Qualities of law office/library – 15 percent.

Sub-Section 2 further provides that: “Each member of the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee shall receive copies of application forms, copies of references and a list of particulars of reported cases (from Supreme Court) or copies of unreported judgement and reports of chambers inspection in respect of all candidates at least one week before the final selection interview date”.

Section 17 of the Act provides diverse criteria that candidates can be assessed on, among which are that: candidates must have been called to Bar for at least 10 years; consultation may be held with the Chief Judge of the High Court where the candidate practices and the local branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to determine this; the candidate must be of good character and must have successfully concluded several cases, and must present income tax for three years.

Lawyers speak

In the meantime, some senior lawyers have expressed divergent views on the propriety of the the N1 million new application fee for aspiring SANs. In his submissions, a former NBA President, J.B. Daudu (SAN), threw his weight behind the new fee, saying it is appropriate. Daudu said: “Taking the rank of SAN is not a tea party. It is expensive. You need to go round all the courts you have practised, collecting certified copies of judgements that you have appeared in.

You need to have a state of the art law office, you need to employ an IT consultant to upload all your requirements on the SAN portal, you will travel around three times to Abuja for interviews and submission of forms, you will have to do a number of pro bono cases at your own expense, and you will approach opposing advocates and judges for references. Those invisible expenses cannot be less than N25 million at the very least.

“Then, if you are selected you will cough out not less than N10million for the robes and other thanksgiving ceremonies”.

 

Corroborating Daudu’s views, a law Professor, Ernest Ojukwu (SAN), stated that the new fee was fair enough considering the inflation rate in the country. “A fee is important to support the processes for the management of the SAN award since the programme is self- financing and not supported with any other fund or endowment. N1 million application fee is also fair considering the inflation rate in the country and the value of our currency.

 

“In England, where Queen’s Counsel, QC now King’s Counsel, KC, is awarded and from where we took the tradition and practice for SAN, the application fee is £2,280 and if you are appointed, you will pay an additional fee of £3,840.

The only thing that I can urge LPPC is also to follow the practice in England and institutionalise a concessional fee for applicants that their annual income is adjudged low. “In England, the concessionary fee of half the normal fee is charged to applicants whose annual income does not exceed £90,000(about N50m CBN exchange.)”, Ojukwu said.

Another Law lecturer, Prof. Sam Erugo (SAN), also supported the fee increase and stated that N1 million processing fee for the award of SAN is relatively cheap compared to rates in other countries. Erugo said: “Payment of processing fee by applicants for the award of the rank of SAN is not new, and there is nothing to warrant debate in the LPPC ‘s decision to charge N1 million for the current year.

The Committee merely increased the fee from N600,000, charged over the past three to four years. “Before then, it was N400,000. From inception of the award, a modest processing fee has always been charged, and I believe that N1million is still a reasonably modest charge in today’s Nigeria.

“Essentially, for one to have distinguished him or herself in the profession as envisaged, and  stipube able to satisfy other specified conditions for the award, I doubt that N1million processing charge should be an issue for debate”.

In his view, E. M. D. Umukoro, said the prestigious rank of SAN was supposed to be awarded to lawyers of proven integrity and those who had developed the hard work and legal skills required. “Are there such lawyers? Yes. But the way and manner of the award now leave much to be desired. It is not just over expensive, but is beyond the reach of many lawyers without connection and the financial muscle. “To get an appeal or get a date in the superior courts is now like attempting to get a visa to the Western nations.

“While not advocating scrapping of the rank, more needs to be done to ensure the son or daughter of a nobody who has no connection but has all the requisite qualities earlier stated is not left out”, Umukoro said. Another lawyer, Deji Babayemi, bemoaned the huge sums involved in applying for the rank of SAN. He said, “The N1, 000,000 is just the amount made public, when the committee comes to inspect offices of applicants and their libraries, they do get much more than that”.

Another lawyer, Lawrence Udo Edet, wondered how a lawyer in the civil service who might be earning less than a million naira per annum would be able to cough out that sum for the rank of SAN. He called for a lower fee, particularly for public service lawyers. Speaking further, Edet said: “For instance, Okon is a lawyer in the civil service.

His annual income is not up to N1million. Okon has qualifications for the award of SANship. Will Okon be able to pay N1million to LPPC to apply for SANship? “Please, will it be offensive for lawyers in civil service to pay a different amount of money, something lower, as application fee for SANship?”.

Also reacting, an Abuja-based Lawyer and rights activist, Maxwell Opara, said: “I can comfortably tell whoever cares to hear that some drivers of the JSC know the simple corrupt means of collecting silk if you can pay. And nobody cares if you are qualified or not”

 

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