Nigerian Lawyers Bicker Over N1m Application Fee For 2023 The Rank of SAN - Uju Ayalogu's Blog for News, Reviews, Articles and More

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Thursday 12 January 2023

Nigerian Lawyers Bicker Over N1m Application Fee For 2023 The Rank of SAN

Nigerian Lawyers Bicker Over N1m Application Fee For 2023 The Rank of SAN

The announcement of the commencement of receipt of applications for the 2023 award for the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN by the Secretary of the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee and Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Hajo Bello has unlike other years stirred up a controversy which is yet to die down several days after.

Unlike previous years when applicants were required to pay N600,000 for the award, the LPPC in the notice stated that lawyers applying for the award were now required to pay a non-refundable processing fee of N1million.

The notice reads: The LPPC hereby makes a formal call for applications preparatory to the award of the rank for the year 2023. Commencing with this year’s exercise, applications shall only be made online and prospective applicants are directed to visit to make their applications.

“Prospective applicants must pay a non-refundable processing fee of N1 million. Upon conclusion of payment, an applicant should upload a copy of the evidence of payment on the application portal. The applicant will receive an email notification from the LPPC Secretariat confirming the applicant’s payment and clearing the applicant to proceed with the application process online.

The LPPC’s decision to increase the application fee from N600,000 to N1million has been generating mixed reactions in the legal circle. While some lawyers kicked against the increase saying that it amounts to commercializing the award, others argue that taking the SAN award is not a tea party.

Vanguard News sampled the opinion of some lawyers on issue and they shared divergent opinions on the matter.

In his opinion, a Former Deputy Director-General of the Nigerian Law School and erudite legal academic, Prof. Ernest Ojukwu, SAN  insisted that the new increase was fair considering the inflation rate in the country. He said: “A fee is important to support the processes for the management of the SAN award since the programme is self- financing and not supported with any other fund or endowment. N1m application fee is also fair considering the inflation rate in the country and the value of our currency.

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

Endorsing Ojukwu’s position, another Law lecturer, Prof. Sam Erugo, SAN also supported the fee increase and stated that N1m processing fee for the award of SAN is relatively cheap compared to rates in other countries.

He said: “Payment of processing fee by applicants for the award of the rank of SAN is not new, and there is nothing to warrant debate in the LPPC ‘s decision to charge N1million for the current year. The Committee merely increased the fee from N600,000, charged over the past three to four years.

Before then, it was N400,000. From inception of the award, a modest processing fee has always been charged, and I believe that N1million is still a reasonably modest charge in today’s Nigeria.

Essentially, for one to have distinguished his or herself in the profession as envisaged, and be able to satisfy other specified conditions for the award, I doubt that N1million processing charge should be an issue for debate.

“I dare say that the real cost for the award are in getting qualified, and particularly for applicants under the Advocates’ category, funding an acceptable office, including a Law Library, and for every applicant being able to fund an application, that is, the package.

These are expensive processes, and unquestionably so. Moreover, I do not know of anywhere in the world where such award or appointment, is free or cheap. In England where we borrowed the idea from, reasonable fee is charged for submission of an application for appointment as a Queen’s Counsel (now King’s Counsel). For the current year, it is £2,160 (VAT inclusive) for processing; and a further £3,000 will be paid by successful applicants.

“So, the Nigerian process is cheap, and the LPPC should be commended for this. Of course, like the title suggests, the N1million charge is for processing, and there is no argument that the process for selecting the SAN awardees is quite rigorous and tasking to LPPC with different subcommittees that work, travel and meet several times before the exercise is concluded. We should be more concerned with the efficacy of the committee in the selection process in the face of daunting challenges, and not the modest processing charge.”

However, some other lawyers have expressed concerns that the increase may lead to a complete monetization of the process as only rich lawyers would be suitable for the award.

Former President of Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, CDHR, Mr. Malachy Ugwummadu said the LPPC may need to review the N1m fee as the award would now attract only money bags in the profession.

He said: “It’s granted that the award or conferment of the rank of SAN is a privilege and entirely at the discretion of the LPPC, thus, the amount at which the processing fee is fixed is equally at their behest. However, the rank of SAN has always symbolised and represented the peak of our professional career in terms of learning and character. It’s not and never intended to be a measure of material acquisition and worth.

Also, Executive Director of Cadrell Advocacy Centre, Mr. Evans Ufeli also disagreed on the new fee and warned of the dire implication of commercialising the award. He said: “The recent decision by LPPC, to charge applicants for the award of SAN, N1m as a processing fee appears far-fetched. As much as I do not know the rationale behind the decision, I feel it is unhealthy. The award of SAN should be strictly on merit to preserve the sanctity and dignity of the calling.

“An exorbitant fee for the application for SAN may derogate the canonical potency of the rank and therefore devalue its predilection. My humble submission will be to say that the committee should revisit that decision and redirect as the negative dust it stirred is yet to settle.

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

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