Saturday, July 23, 2011

Senior Lawyers Urge Court to Void SANs’ Award.

A group of senior lawyers have asked a Federal High Court in Lagos to reverse the recent award of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) to some legal practitioners in the country.
Thirty new SANs were last week appointed by the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee.
The lawyers, led by an octogenarian, Tunde Gomez, argued Friday that the reversal was necessary to protect the sanctity of the court before whom a case challenging the constitutionality of the Legal Practitioners Act (LPA), the law guiding the award of the rank, is pending.

Rights activist and politician, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, who led a group of lawyers for the plaintiffs, told the court that the defendants deliberately stayed away from the court despite the service of court's processes on them.
With the permission of the court, Braithwaite proceeded to argue the plaintiffs' application for interlocutory injunctions.
The plaintiffs include Mr. Gomez, Peter Okoye, Foluso Fayokun, E. O. Otokhina and Seth Amaefule.
Named as defendants include the Chair, Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee, (LPPC), the committee, Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Lagos State's Attorney General, Lagos State Judicial Service Commission and Chair, Nigerian Bar Association, Lagos branch, Chijioke Okoli.

The plaintiffs, in their application, prayed the court for orders restraining the LPPC and its chair from screening the list of shortlisted lawyers for the SAN rank, giving effect to the list and proceeding to award the said rank.
Braithwaite argued that although the process was almost concluded with the release of the names of those on whom the rank was awarded, it was not yet completed because they were yet to be inaugurated.

He urged the court to reverse the steps taken so far by the first and second defendants (Chair, LPPC and the committee) pending the determination of the substantive suit, which is challenging the constitutionality of the LPA.
He argued that it amounted to a slight on the court for the Nigerian Bar Association, the LPPC and its chair to proceed with the process of the award of SAN despite being aware of the existence of a suit challenging the constitutionality of the LPA under which they purportedly acted.
"The thrust of this action is the fact that there is a substantive action pending in court, where the constitutionality of the Legal Practitioners Act, under which the LPPC derives the powers to award the SAN title, is the subject.
"Until the constitutionality of the Act is tried, it is absolutely imperative that this court holds a balance. The main action which is yet to be tried goes to the root of the constitutionality of the powers of the LPPC to act in awarding the SAN rank," he said.
He argued that the reversal of the steps so far taken by the first and second defendants in respect of the award of the SAN title, would serve to protect the court's exercise of its disciplinary jurisdiction in protection of the court process.
Braithwaite noted that although all the defendants were served with court documents, they proceeded to perform the acts, which the suit challenged.

He further argued that the steps leading to the recent announcement of a new set of Senior Advocates were in disregard of the condition precedence, which was the need to first subject the process to a thorough review, as agreed at the last NBA National Conference held in Kaduna.

Gomez averred in a supporting affidavit that it was a resolution of the last NBA conference that a stakeholders meeting be convoked to review the SAN awarding process, which many argued has been abused.
He added that despite that this resolution was communicated by the NBA's President to the CJN, who heads the LPPC, the CJN allegedly ignored the NBA Conference's resolution and proceeded to award the SAN rank.
Justice Mohammed Idris has fixed ruling on the matter for July 29.


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