The rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) is awarded as a mark of excellence to members of the legal profession who have “qualified to practice as a legal practitioner in Nigeria for not less than ten years and has achieved distinction in the legal profession…” S. 5 (2) Legal Practitioners Act.
Unless you have gone through the process of taking silk or been close to any who went through it, you may not know that it is one of the most rigorous and painstaking processes for all concerned; the candidates, the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee [LPPC], the Supreme Court Justices and Justices at all levels of the justice delivery spectrum.
As one who has gone through the process, permit me to opine that it may be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for one undeserving of the privilege within each geopolitical federating zone, to obtain the rank.
However, man being a work in progress, there is always room for improvement. Permit me then to make suggestions for reforming with respect to both categories: Advocate SANs and Academic SANs.
● SOME RECOMMENDATIONS WITH RESPECT TO ADVOCATE SANs:
Further permit me to take a voyage to 1978, the year I wrote my school certificate at Edo College, Benin City. For the purpose of the West Africa School Certificate Examinations, subjects were classified into groups as follows:
a. English Language (or other Languages) – Compulsory group.
d. Social Sciences
e. Fine Art / Technical Drawing
The languages category was compulsory, while you had to choose between a minimum of six and a maximum of nine subjects from four groups.
You could not write your WAEC in your best six to nine subjects if they all were from, for instance, two or three groups. You had to drop some and add some to meet the prerequisite of six to nine subjects from a maximum of four groups. The raison d’etre for this being the need for candidates to have a broad-based education.
●SUGGESTIONS FOR THE ADVOCATE SAN CATEGORY
It is hereby suggested that the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee adopt subject matter classifications in order to produce SANs who would have a broad-based distinction in as wide an array of subject matters as possible, this being a major way to justify the rank. Any SAN can of course decide to specialise thereafter, but s/he will never be found wanting in as broad as possible a spectrum of law practice, thus justifying the silk.
However, if we choose to maintain the current system wherein some SANs come in with subject matter expertise in one or two categories of law practice, it would be expedient to narrow their practice to those fields of expertise.
The following examples may explain better what I am trying to say:
(a) It may be desirable but unlikely for a SAN who got the rank purely as a criminal law advocate with only criminal law proceedings and judgments, for example, to refuse a juicy brief for, say, election petitions, or oil and gas which are not his areas of expertise. But this seldom happens. Who is going to bell the cat? Who is going to enforce narrowing their practice to those fields of expertise?
(b) Indeed, some Senior Advocates who got the rank as academics were excellent in the specialist terrain of practice and procedure, but some not quite so, thus bruising the distinction expected of the rank. This is because they got the rank premised upon their very good research skills and writings and not necessarily, their practice in court.
In order to avoid similar weaknesses which tend to undermine the rank, amidst the so many great strides the LPPC has made, the following recommendations are humbly submitted:
That for the advocate category, the following court case classifications, subject to amendment, be adopted for appeals:
(i) General Criminal Causes,
(ii) Specialist Criminal- [EFCC / ICPC], Capital Offences, Election Criminal,
(iii) Civil – Commercial/Company,
(iv) Specialist Civil – Aviation, Maritime,
Pre-Election and Post-Election,
(vi) Special Courts (Medical & Dental Practitioners, LPDC, COREN, ARCON, Military),
● FURTHER RECOMMENDED PURSUANT TO PARAGRAPHS 3 and 6 ABOVE:
That in order to qualify to apply for the rank under the Advocate Category,
(a) at the level of the Supreme Court; you will be required to have a minimum of one judgment each from a minimum of four out of the groups listed.
(b) at the level of the Court of Appeal; you will be required to have a minimum of two judgments each from a minimum of four out of all the groups listed.
(c) Courts of First Instance: No classifications.
● ACADEMIC SANs.
While the introduction of the rank to academics was good, and the first academic list SAN, foremost constitutional lawyer, Professor Nwabueze, SAN, is a man of incomparable distinction, it is recommended that two routes be created for academic list SANs.
ROUTE No. 1: Become SAN on your papers and books only and be expressly constrained from courtroom practice.
ROUTE No. 2: To be able to practice as a courtroom advocate become SAN on your papers, books, and added courtroom qualifications as admirably suggested by Ebun-Oluwa Adegboruwa, SAN thus – “Frontload at least five trials in contested cases in the High Court, three contested cases in the Court of Appeal and two contested cases in the Supreme Court” all obtained in the ten years preceding the application.
Although Route 2 requirement above is a far cry from the stringent requirements for Advocate list SANs, suggested academic Route 2 should have a salutary effect in ensuring that those professors who practice in court as SAN are advocates in the courtroom sense of it.
The academic SAN who chooses route No. 2 may even emerge as the best Senior Advocate given his humongous output in books and legal research papers in addition to the 5 – 3 – 2 case requirement suggested above.
I did give the following example in my initially circulated piece before I took the rank in 2021 that, I did witness an elderly SAN / former state attorney-general during election petitions turn around to the utter bar, asking in exasperation, “who made this man a Senior Advocate?” The focus of his angst was a Senior Advocate (academic) plodding his way through the clearly unfamiliar territory of election petitions. When the elderly SAN was told that his brother silk got the rank premised upon his academic work in corporate law and governance, he asked in further exasperation, “so, why is he here?” It was very embarrassing, to say the least.
● AMENDMENT OF INITIAL SUGGESTION:
My initial suggestion, as hereunder restated, is therefore amended as above states.
Here is what I wrote earlier: “it is recommended that academic list SANs be expressly restricted from practice as courtroom advocates, subject only to the following:
If academic list SANs elect to practice in the courts, they should apply to the LPPC for a special dispensation to practice, in which case, the following parameters are recommended to be established for them:
(a) Collaboration with an advocate category Senior Advocate for a minimum of four years with certified true copies of proceedings and judgments in
(i) five cases at court of 1st instance and
(ii) two each at the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, in which the academic category SAN was led by the advocate SAN, including briefs and pleadings with names appearing.
(b) After four years, the academic SAN may then receive, upon application, a special dispensation to appear alone in courts.”
Those views stand amended aforesaid.
A. By way of concluding remarks, at 60 years of age, and 37 years at the bar, I have reached the legacy stage of my professional career. I am not interested in self-aggrandisement or popularity, but in leaving the profession better than I met it.
B. In this regard, in my various writings, I have made many recommendations for the improvement of the justice delivery sector. As the good Lord gives me strength, I shall neither stop nor be intimidated.
C. The article as first circulated online has generated a robust discussion among the legal luminaries which I appreciate greatly. Everyone is interested in the profession and it is not meant to attack anyone or any set of persons.
D. These suggestions, which by the way, affect both the Advocate list SANs and Academic list SANs, are made to strengthen one of the few remaining quality institutions in Nigeria, the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria. They are made to save the rank and the profession from denigration and demystification, and not to diminish anybody. The rank is greater than all of us. Let us protect it.
● Ikeazor ‘Kizor’ Akaraiwe, SAN
(Piece originally published by Law and Society magazine)