Can A Court Restrain Or Compel the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) In Respect of Award of SAN In Nigeria?
By Sylvester Udemezue
I have just seen and gone through a news item titled, “SAN Rank: Ex-lawmaker drags LPPC to Court over Kogi Nominee, Abdul Mohammed”; (published on <https://www.barristerng.com/san-rank-ex-lawmaker-drags-lppc-to-court-over-kogi-nominee-abdul-mohammed/>) in which it is reported that a “Former member representing Igalamela/Odolu State Constituency and Chairman of Public Accounts Committee in Kogi State House of Assembly, Hon. Friday Sani Makama, on Friday, filed a lawsuit at the Federal High Court, Abuja against the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee, LPPC, for nominating Barrister Abdul Wahab Mohammed for the title of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).” The Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) is a regulatory authority in the legal profession, charged by section 5 LPA with the power to award or withdraw the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) respectively to or from deserving legal practitioners in Nigeria.
It is my humble opinion that no court in Nigeria has the power to restrain the LPPC from awarding the rank of SAN to any lawyer the LPPC decides to award the title to or to withdraw the rank from anyone the LPPC decides to not withdraw same from. It is entirely within the discretion of the LPPC to decide who to award to and who to not. Just as the courts cannot compel the LPPC, in the same manner, courts have no power to stop the LPPC in this regard.
Section 5 (1) and (2) of the Legal Practitioners Act, Cap L11, LFN, 2004 provides: “(1) Subject to subsection (2) of this section, the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee established under subsection (3) of this section may by instrument confer on a legal practitioner the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria. (2) A person shall not be conferred with the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria unless he has been qualified to practise as a legal practitioner in Nigeria for not less than ten years and has achieved distinction in the legal profession in such manner as the Commit‐ tee may, from time to time, determine”. After a person has met the conditions stipulated in section 5(2) LPA, and the Guidelines of the LPPC 2018, made by the LPPC, and any further directives contained in the SAN application form, the LPPC reserves the discretion to award the rank of SAN to the person.
However, it must be stated that there are windows open to any person who feels that any lawyer in Nigeria has committed any form of professional misconduct, to seek redress. The misconducts include:
▪️(a) infamous conduct in a professional respect [s. 12(1)(a)LPA];
▪️(b). Conduct incompatible with the status of a legal practitioner [s. 12(2)LPA];
▪️(c) obtaining enrollment by fraud [s. 12(1)(c)LPA]; and
▪️(d) conviction in Nigeria for an offence incompatible with the status of a legal practitioner [s. 12(1)(b)LPA].
Under a section 12, LPA and Rules 4 of the Legal Practitioners Discuplinary Committee Rules 2020, any aggrieved person may make a petition/complaint (known as “Originating Application”). Under Rule 4 of the LPDC Rules, the Originating Application may be made to anyone of the following: the CJN, AGF, PCA, Chairman of BOB, NBA President or an NBA Branch Chairman, or to the LPDC, etc following which the affected lawyer may face trial before the LPDC (Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee), and if found liable, may be expelled or suspended from law practice or otherwise warned or admonished, depending on the circumstances and the type of misconduct committed. There is room for restitution also.
As an alternative to trial before the LPDC, the aggrieved person may petition the Supreme Court of Nigeria [under s. 13(1) LPA] or the Chief Justice of Nigeria [under section 13(2) LPA], each of which is a disciplinary authority in the legal profession.
There is yet another option; if the lawyer is a SAN, the aggrieved person can petition the LPPC to suspend or withdraw the rank from him. If he not yet a SAN, as in this case, the aggrieved person may petition the LPPC to not award him the rank. The LPPC would look into the petition and decide what to do. The LPPC has an absolute discretion in this regard. It is not even bound to investigate any petition although it is desirable it does in the interest of the image of the profession. If the aggrieved person has written to the LPPC and his petition is unsuccessful, as in the present case, he is not entitled to go to court to stop or challenge the LPPC. The rank of SAN is a PRIVILEGE to be awarded to whomsoever the LPPC wishes to award it to , provided the person meets the conditions set out in section 5(2) LPA and also in the extant guidelines for the award of SAN.
Please note that the mere fact they a person has met the relevant conditions is not any guarantee that the person would be given the rank. It is, as I have pointed out, absolutely within LPPC’s discretion to decide whether to award it to you even after you’ve met the relevant conditions. LPPC cannot be compelled one way or another, to award or to not award. Based on this, the case reportedly filed by the ex law maker in Kogi State, to compel the LPPC to not award the rank of SAN to a lawyer, is frivolous, vexatious and amounts to a gross abuse of the process of court. My humble opinion, please.
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