How SAN­ship cri­te­ria sieves out se­nior lawyers

Daily Trust - - HEALTH - By John Chuks Azu

Many se­nior lawyers fail to make the cri­te­ria for ap­point­ment into the rank of Se­nior Ad­vo­cate of Nige­ria (SAN) due to sev­eral fac­tors, find­ings have shown.

Many lawyers are sieved out through the eval­u­a­tion scru­tiny by the var­i­ous sub­com­mit­tees, in­ter­views ses­sions, rec­om­men­da­tion let­ters of judges, and the pro­fes­sional com­pe­tence re­quired to at­tain the SAN, which is an equiv­a­lent of the Queens Coun­sel (QC) in the United King­dom.

Ranked lawyers en­joy cer­tain priv­i­leges like sit­ting in the front row in court and to have their cases called first. Be­sides, it has been claimed that the rank at­tracts the con­fi­dence of both po­lit­i­cal and cor­po­rate clien­tele with more lu­cra­tive briefs.

It is not as easy as it seemed when F.R.A. Wil­liams and Dr Nabo Gra­ham Dou­glas wore the garb as the only two se­lected as SANs on April 3, 1975. There was the un­equalled feat of La­teef Fagbemi, who at­tained the rank at ex­actly 10 years on the Bar in 1996. Fiery Lagos lawyer, late Gani Fawehnmi made the rank af­ter sev­eral at­tempts, as he was even­tu­ally listed by pop­u­lar de­mand.

For many ob­servers of the le­gal pro­fes­sion, it was a huge re­lief when the name of hu­man rights and an­ti­cor­rup­tion lawyer, Fes­tus Keyamo, and be­fore him Mike Ozekhome and Femi Falana fi­nally ap­peared on the 2009 and 2012 lists of SANs af­ter sev­eral at­tempts.

The ex­pec­ta­tion was that hav­ing spent over two decades in the de­fence of the rights of the down­trod­den, the lawyers would be eas­ily be­stowed with the pres­ti­gious rank. But af­ter ap­ply­ing for the po­si­tion on sev­eral oc­ca­sions with­out suc­cess, the pop­u­lar sen­ti­ment was that the rank is de­lib­er­ately made dif­fi­cult for some lawyers to at­tain. Some an­a­lysts point to a de­lib­er­ate scape­goat­ing of the more vo­cal and ac­tivist lawyers by deny­ing them the much cov­eted rank.

This per­cep­tion is deep­ened by the fact that many more se­nior lawyers have had to sweat through their brows to get con­ferred with the SAN rank. For in­stance, late Dr Olu Onagoruwa did not make the SAN rank de­spite be­com­ing the At­tor­ney Gen­eral of the Fed­er­a­tion in 1996 un­der the Gen­eral Sani Abacha regime. The tra­di­tion has been that a per­son so ap­pointed au­to­mat­i­cally makes the next batch.

The Le­gal Prac­ti­tion­ers Priv­i­leges Com­mit­tee (LPPC) chaired by the Chief Jus­tice of Nige­ria has the man­date to im­ple­ment the pro­vi­sions of the Le­gal Prac­ti­tion­ers’ Act. The 2016 Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment Of­fi­cial Gazette for ap­point­ment of SANs listed the cri­te­ria for be­com­ing SAN.

Sec­tion 16 (2) of the Act stip­u­lates 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 or copies of un­re­ported judg­ments 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 var­ied cri­te­ria for the can­di­dates to be as­sessed on. The can­di­date 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). The can­di­date must be of good char­ac­ter and must have suc­cess­fully con­cluded a num­ber of cases, and must present in­come tax for a pe­riod of three years.

Ac­cord­ing to the Chief Reg­is­trar of the Supreme Court, Uwani Mustapha, the 2017 list of SANs, which suc­cess­ful can­di­dates will be in­au­gu­rated in Septem­ber, a to­tal of 156 can­di­dates ap­plied, out of which 153 submitted the re­quire­ments. Of this 72 can­di­dates were short­listed for oral in­ter­view out of which 32 suc­ceeded. Among the list are four lawyers from the academia and four women.

A newly el­e­vated SAN, who would not want to be named, at­trib­uted the re­jec­tion of some lawyers to their at­ti­tude to the pro­fes­sion. Cit­ing sec­tion 18 (2) of the Act, he said some lawyers ex­hibit un­ac­cept­able be­hav­iours like mis­man­age­ment of clients’ funds, self-seek­ing, praise or ad­ver­tise­ment, while ne­glect­ing to de­velop their knowl­edge of the law.

“Many of them were not qual­i­fied based on the cri­te­ria. They have not made the re­quired score for cham­bers in­spec­tion, knowl­edge of law, opin­ion of other judges and lawyers and the qual­ity of cases you have han­dled. The process is based on ob­jec­tive cri­te­ria, not sen­ti­ments,” he said.

But an Abuja-based lawyer, who pleaded not to be named, crit­i­cized the process for SAN award, and called for its lib­er­al­iza­tion or scrap­ping.

“I must say I am not quite sat­is­fied with the cri­te­ria for the award of that hon­our. To me the cri­te­ria are op­pres­sive, it is a com­mon fact that states that have many qual­i­fied peo­ple would, can­di­date would re­sort lob­by­ing. I would have ex­pected that there should be a qual­i­fy­ing ex­am­i­na­tion like that of the In­sti­tute of Char­tered Ac­coun­tants of Nige­ria (ICAN),” he said.

Le­gal lu­mi­nary, Afe Ba­balola (SAN) submitted “all per­sons who merit the rank in any given year should be con­ferred with it. The sole test, as is now the po­si­tion in Eng­land should be ex­cel­lence in ad­vo­cacy. This way there will be no back­log of ap­pli­cants.”

For his part, Chukwu Machukwu-Ume (SAN) said it is not pos­si­ble for many lawyers who have ap­plied for SAN in a year to all make the list.

Femi Falana

Fes­tus Keyamo

Mike Ozekhome

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