A Lagos-based lawyer and human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), has called for the review of the guidelines for the award of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), with a view to democratising the process.
Falana also called for automatic conferment of the rank on all legal practitioners who satisfy the laid down criteria.
In a letter to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and the Chairperson of the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC), Justice Aloma Mukhtar, dated July 12, Falana condemned the ongoing exercise in which qualified legal practitioners who had previously been shortlisted, were not invited for interview for an undisclosed reasons.
Falana in the letter, which was a response to the invitation by the LPPC for public comments on the integrity and competence of the 43 legal practitioners shortlisted for the award of the rank of SAN this year, said the secrecy behind the denial of qualified applicants could no longer be justified as the LPPC may be compelled to disclose the reasons which informed its discretion under Freedom of Information (FoI) Act 2011.
"In the ongoing exercising, some of those who met the criteria but who were not invited for the interview had been shortlisted on three or four previous occasions.
"As usual, the reasons for excluding them from the list of qualified applicants are not going to be disclosed. But such secrecy can no longer be justified as the LPPC may be compelled to disclose the reasons that informed its discretion under FoI Act 2011," he said.
"From the information at my disposal the LPPC pegged the number of those who were invited for interview to 43 on the grounds of federal character and other criteria in contravention of Section 42(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended and Article 2 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification) and Enforcement Act (Cap A9) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 which provide that no Nigerian citizen shall be subjected to disabilities or restrictions or accorded any privilege or advantage merely by reasons of circumstances of birth, ethnic group, sex, religion or political opinion," he stated.
According to the human rights activist, the guidelines for the rank have not restricted the number of successful applicants for the rank of SAN to 15 per annum, adding that LPPC approved the conferment of the rank on 25 practitioners in 2006.
Falana said 25 practitioners were also honoured with the rank in 2012 and urged the CJN to ensure that all qualified legal practitioners who met the laid down guidelines are conferred with the rank in the interest of justice and fair play.
He said the award process had since been democratised in England where the idea of Queen's Counsel was introduced to Nigeria.