Lawyers, AGF

By Henry Ojelu

Last week, the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee, LPPC, announced that the receipt of applications for the 2023 award for the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, has begun.

The LPPC, in a message from its Secretary and Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Hajo Bello, 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 SAN Ranking Guidelines, 2022.

N1m processing fee

Unlike previous years when applicants had to pay N600,000 for the award, the LPPC stated in the notice that lawyers applying for the award were now required to pay a non-refundable processing fee of N1 million.

The announcement reads: The LPPC is hereby issuing a formal call for applications in preparation for the award of the rank for the year 2023. As of this year’s exercise, applications will be submitted online only and potential applicants will be directed to www.lppconline .com to make their requests.

“Candidates are required to pay a non-refundable processing fee of N1 million. Upon completion of payment, an applicant must upload a copy of the proof of payment on the application portal. The applicant will receive an email notification from the LPPC Secretariat confirming the applicant’s payment and authorizing the applicant to proceed with the online application process.

“Only clear copies of materials presented will be considered/accepted by the Secretariat in accordance with Article 9(2) of the Guidelines. In the case of academic applicants who may wish to submit publications that are too large to be easily scanned and uploaded, it is sufficient to scan and upload the title page of such publications, while submitting hard copies along with the flash drives to be referred to in clause 25 below.

“After uploading copies of all mandatory or supporting documents online, applicants also submit five flash drives with a copy of their completed application form (downloadable from the online portal) and copies of all 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 guidelines of the LPPC as listed above will be rejected by the Secretariat. All applications along with their mandatory or supporting documents must be submitted online at www.lppconline.com before 12 noon on 31 March 2023, while the flash drives referred to in clause 25 above must be delivered to the LPPC Secretariat before 4:00 pm on April 3, 2023.”

The LPPC’s decision to raise the processing fee from N600,000 to N1 million has sparked mixed reactions in the legal circle. While some lawyers kicked the increase, saying it amounts to commercializing the award, others argue that taking the SAN award is no tea party.

Tariff increase fair — Prof. dr. Ojukwu, San

Responding to criticism of the new application fee, Prof. Ernest Ojukwu, former dean of the Nigerian law school, Enugu campus, insisted that the new increase was reasonable given the inflation in the country. He said: “Fee is important to support the SAN award management processes as the program is self-funding and not supported by any other fund or endowment. N1m application fees are also reasonable given the inflation in the country and the value of our currency.

“In England where Queen’s Counsel, QC is now awarded King’s Counsel, KC and where we have adopted the tradition and practice for SAN, the application fee is £2,280 and if you are appointed you pay an additional fee of £3,840. All I can urge LPPC is to also follow the practice in England and institutionalize a concessional fee for applicants that their annual income is deemed low. In England, the concession fee of half the normal fee is charged to applicants whose annual income does not exceed £90,000 (approximately N50m CBN exchange.)”

N1m cheap for SAN award – Prof. dr. erugo

Law Lecturer, Prof. Sam Erugo, SAN also supported the rate increase, stating that N1m processing fees for SAN award are relatively cheap compared to rates in other countries.

He said: “Payment of processing fees by applicants for the award of the rank of SAN is not new, and there is nothing to warrant discussion in the LPPC’s decision to charge N1million for the current year. The commission only increased the fee of N600,000, which has been charged for the past three to four years.

Before then it was N400,000. Modest processing fees have always been charged from the inception of the award, and I believe N1million is still a fairly modest amount in Nigeria today.

Essentially, if one has distinguished themselves in the profession as envisaged, and is able to meet other specified conditions for the award, I doubt that the processing fee of N1 million should be a point of discussion.

“I dare say the real cost to the award is to become qualified, and particularly for applicants in the Lawyers category, to fund an acceptable office, including a Law Library, and for any applicant who can fund an application, that is, the package. These are expensive processes, no doubt they are. Moreover, I don’t know anywhere in the world where such an award or appointment is free or cheap. In England, where we borrowed the idea from, a reasonable fee is charged for applying for appointment as Queen’s Counsel (now King’s Counsel). For the current year, it’s £2,160 (including VAT) for processing; and a further £3,000 will be paid by successful applicants.

“So the Nigerian process is cheap, and the LPPC deserves credit for this. Of course, as the title suggests, the N1million charge is for processing, and there is no arguing that the process of selecting the SAN winners is quite rigorous and onerous for LPPC with several sub-committees working, traveling and meeting several times before the exercise is closed. We should be more concerned about the effectiveness of the committee in the selection process in the face of daunting challenges, and not about the modest processing costs.

Award should only attract money bags -Ugwumadu

Former chairman of the CDHR defense committee, Mr Malachy Ugwummadu, said the LPPC may need to review the N1m fee as the award would now only bring money bags into the profession.

He said: “It is clear that the award or award of the rank of SAN is a privilege and entirely at the discretion of the LPPC, so the amount at which the processing fee is set is equally at their request. However, the rank of SAN has always symbolized and represented the pinnacle of our professional career in terms of learning and character. It is not and never intended as a measure of material acquisition and value.

“In many ways and within the context of the Nigerian economy, the LPPC may need to exercise more caution and discretion. Otherwise, it only attracts moneybags who can afford such exorbitant processing fees, in addition to other layers of fees and financial obligations. Such moneybags may be the only applicants eligible for consideration but may have very little to offer the profession in terms of deepening and expanding the boundaries of legal jurisprudence to meet the demands of contemporary Nigeria.

Award must not be commercialized – Ufeli

Cadrell Advocacy Centre’s executive director, Mr. Evans Ufeli, also disagreed with the new fee and warned of the serious implications of commercializing the award. He said: “LPPC’s recent decision to charge applicants for the award of SAN, N1m as a processing fee seems far-fetched. As much as I don’t know the rationale behind the decision, I think it’s unhealthy. The award of SAN must be strictly on merit to maintain the sanctity and dignity of the calling.

“An exorbitant SAN application fee may detract from the canonical potency of the rank and thereby devalue its preference. My humble submission will be to say that the committee needs to revisit and refocus that decision, as the negative dust it stirred up has not yet settled.

“The amount being charged here is like bringing a poisonous leaf to a purification party. The commercialization of promotion in the legal circle is a security risk situation.”

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