By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA— NEW set of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, may emerge soon, as the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, yesterday, told a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja that it has decided to discontinue with the suit it filed against the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee, LPPC.
The NBA said it intends to settle the matter out of court.
NBA had gone to court to challenge the competence of a list of legal practitioners compiled by the LPPC, for the purpose of conferring them with the rank of SAN.
Following the decision of the NBA to opt for an out of court settlement on the matter, presiding Justice Gabriel Kolawole, yesterday, ordered all the parties in the suit to appear before the court on May 31 with their report of settlement.
It would be recalled that the NBA had earlier secured a court injunction stopping the appointment of new SAN’s for the year 2010/ 2011, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit it filed against the LPPC, the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the Attorney General of the Federation.
It had prayed the High Court to void the LPPC’s list on the premise that it was constituted in total disregard of the due process of the law, just as it insisted that the planned action ran contrary to the provisions of Section 7 of the Legal Practitioners Act.
NBA specifically urged the trial court to determine among other things, “whether the defendants, particularly the LPPC, complied with the mandatory provision of paragraph 12_(1) of the Guidelines for the appointment of Legal Practitioners to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria made pursuant to Section 7 of the Legal Practitioners Act, in the appointment exercise to the rank of SAN for the year 2010-2011.”
The LPPC, had on March 16, invited 62 legal practitioners for interview with a view to ascertaining their suitability for the conferment of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SAN, on them.
The action was vehemently resisted by the NBA which maintained that it was not carried along in the entire process.
According to an affidavit deposed to by the NBA National President, Mr. J.B. Daudu, SAN, the aforementioned paragraph 12-(1) of the stipulated Guidelines, provides that the list of selected legal practitioners that scaled the first and second filters for the rank, should be sent to the national secretariat of the Nigerian Bar Association, the candidate’s local branch of the NBA, as well as to all Chief Judges, justices of the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court, who shall be requested to comment confidentially on the integrity, competence and reputation of the selected candidates.
Consequently, NBA urged the trial Judge to determine “whether the present exercise is not incompetent, null and void on account of fundamental breach by the defendants of the statutory guidelines for the appointment of numerous applicants to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria for the year 2010-2011.”
The legal body equally sought a declaration “that the process or procedure for appointment of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria is statutory based on an Act of the National Assembly, i.e. Legal Practitioners Act.”
“That the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee is enjoined to strictly comply with provisions of its statutory guidelines to wit: Guidelines for the Conferment of the Rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
“That it is illegal that such a mandatory statutory provision has been ignored or sidestepped by the defendants in the purported discharge of their statutory functions. That the confidential reference by judges and the Bar, constitutes the pillar upon which any appointment to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria can be made.
“That the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria is an important institution in the legal profession of Nigeria and over the years there have been complaints of lowering of standards, abuse of process and outright corruption of the selection process and this have led to a large section of Bar calling for its total abolition.
“That the majority of the Legal profession think that the process of appointment can be reformed but with the present fundamental infractions such as the foregoing, it is difficult to be optimistic it is apt to suspend further action of the appointment of this year’s applicants to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria on the grounds referred to above by nullification of the process so far.
“That the attention of the Chief Justice of Nigeria the Chairman of the 1st defendant and 2nd defendant in this suit was by a letter dated March 31, 2011 drawn to the afore_described breaches but his response was to proceed to fix the meeting of the 1st defendant for Monday, April 4, 2011 for appointment of new senior advocates.
“That if not restrained the committee will proceed in the face of these breaches. That the Nigerian Bar Association is a veritable stakeholder in the appointment process of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria as it is her members that are the conferees of the award of the rank.
“That monumental injustice will be occasioned to the totality of the rank of Nigerian lawyers if the appointment is allowed to proceed without the input of confidential reference by (a) National secretariat of the Nigerian Bar Association, (b) the candidate’s local branch of the Nigeria Bar Association and (c) all Chief Judges, justices of the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.
“That in proceeding to confer the rank of applicants this year, a veritable and indeed mandatory filter process has been ignored which may lead to candidates with bad character and others with disciplinary problems to slip through the net and recklessly be conferred with the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria. That it is crucial that matters be kept in status_quo until the substantive suit is determined to finality.”
Meantime, it is only the LPPC that has the statutory powers to confer SAN on worthy legal practitioners in the country who satisfy all the requisite conditions for the title, just as it equally has the mandate to discipline any of them found professionally wanting.