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Senior Advocate of Nigeria: A Brainchild of Queen’s Counsel Institution

Senior Advocate of Nigeria: A Brainchild of Queen’s Counsel Institution

Senior Advocate of Nigeria: A Brainchild of Queen’s Counsel Institution

By Jimoh AbdulGaniy Adisa
It is, indeed, a common knowledge from the indelible and evergreen saying that “Rome was not built a day”, credited to a cleric in the court of Phillipe of Alsace, the court of Flanders in present-day Belgium. On the authority of this, the SAN rank is awarded as a mark of excellence to outstanding members of the legal profession who had worked assiduously as academics and advocates. Albeit, the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), is deemed as a recent innovation that substituted the archaic institution of Queen’s Counsel, which was brought from England, it came into being vide the crown to handle legal matters. Hence, this treatise x-rays SAN as a brainchild of Queen’s Counsel Institution.

Without a scintilla of equivocation nor conjecture, the 27th day of November, is indeed a red-letter day for the new members of the inner-bar (hereinafter referred to as the 58 Senior Advocates of Nigeria).It is never a bolt from the blue to the gentlemen at the bar as a result of their tireless efforts in the precinct of advocacy and academics when the Chief Justice of Nigeria (Kayode Ariwoola) sworn them in as part of the programs line up for the 2023/2024 of the legal year of the court. Be that as it may, this treatise seeks to justify the covetous rank, its origin, and other things related to it and therefore, a deep dive into the next line of paragraph will justify the given topic.

It is of utmost necessary to shed light on some key words of the given topic, to wit; Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Brain Child, Queen’s Counsel Institution. Sensu stricto, SAN, denotes Senior Advocate of Nigeria, and it equally came into being consequent upon the defunct of Queen’s Counsel institution that was inherited from England.

Brainchild: the learned authors of Universal Dictionary succinctly put it as “an idea or intervention considered to be a particular person’s creation While Queen’s counsel represents a senior barrister appointed on the recommendation of Lord Chancellor.

They are the counsels that were hired by the crown to administer it legal matters, it is a similitude of the present day Attorney General. It is indeed, deduced from a historical fact the 1st Queen’s counsel in English history is known as Francis Beacon, having been appointed by Queen Elizabeth 1 in 1544 and take the responsibility of serving the crown during the reign of James 1 with an annual salary. He was also prohibited from representing interests that were against the crown without the prior consent of the letter.Moreso, salaries were later replaced according to proportionate remuneration for actual work done until their services became altogether unnecessary. Consequent upon this, the institution transformed to a different status as honorary title. It is not required of the Queen’s counsel to work for the state, but the urgent need for a special license to appear against the crown remained until 1920, when hindrance was totally removed.
In furtherance of the above, the titled is bestowed on deserving barristers in England vide the dint of royal prerogative for the sake of practice, this privilege is limited to those at with least ten years of practice. Albeit, special consideration is given to members of the parliament who are Barristers. Indeed, a Queen Counsel is entitled to put on the full bottom wig and a silk gown in lieu of the cotton stuff worn by the junior. In another sense, he is under some restrictions and the general character has been significantly in tandem with the present epoch.

Moving on, the ditto Institution became a feature of the legal profession in different common Law jurisdiction where the difference between Barristers and Solicitors had been embraced. The rule for regulating the qualification for the appointment and the adopted name is quite different in other jurisdiction. Predominantly, the jurisdictions with a combined legal profession have no need for this English.

In the annum 1958, the Federal Attorney General brought forth a bill for the establishment of Queen’s Counsel in Nigeria. The Nigeria Bar Association at a general conference establishes a committee to inspect deeply the criteria governing the creation of status of Queen’s Counsel or its similitude in other jurisdiction and understand the requisite for its functions in those places. The feedback from the report was that the classification of barrister in accordance with experience is not a general thing. It is regarded as very common in jurisdictions where there is separation between Barristers and Solicitors; but without any pinch of attachment to standard of practice.

As a matter of fact, the status of Queen’s Counsel was finally given to Nigeria by provision of Queen’s Counsel Act, 1958, and equally enabled Crown to appoint qualified legal practitioners to the index of Queen’s Counsel. Along the same lines, when Nigeria attains the status of Republican in 1963, the ranks of Queen’s Counsel became obsolete. Albeit, it was in existence for a while before it was eventually exterminated by the Queen’s Counsel (Abolition) Act, 1960.

Thereafter, it was revived in 1975 with the creation of the rank of SAN by the dint of the provision of Section 5(1) of the Legal Practitioners Act. Without, any form of doubt, the section entitled the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee to confer, vide instrument, the rank of SAN on worthy Legal Practitioners not less than 10 years standing at the bar and equally achieved distinction in the prestigious profession to the satisfaction of the committee.

By extension of the aforementioned standpoints, as far as Nigeria is concerned, the influence of SAN is enormous, it is similar to a royalty, a glory meant for the monarch only. Any moment, a SAN steps into a court, it is like the restoration of a light in a dark room; all eyes focuses towards a single direction. As the rule avers, SAN is a rank that may be conferred on a gentleman in the Nigerian bar, with less than ten years standing. To be given such rank, one has to exhibit outstanding performance in the legal profession. In the lens of the global comparison, SAN is in tandem with the rank of Queen’s Counsel in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. In a nutshell, the rank of SAN represents an admission into the inner “Inner Bar” against the “Outer Bar” which constitutes junior advocates.

The chronicle of conferment of SAN could be dated back to April 3, 1975 when the duo of Chief Fredick Rotimi Alade Williams and Dr Nabo Graham Douglas were first conferred with the this noble title. In a similar fashion, research avers that CHIEF (MRS) FOLAKE SOLANKE bears the distinction of being the first female to attain the prestigious rank six years after in 1981.Among the notable list of this noble rank is Chief Henry Theodore Okeade Coker.(H.T.O Coker)who was bestowed in 1982 with the serial no 32.However, before assuming the noble status, the required task is done in early at the bar. Moreover, in 1975, a number of advocates in Nigeria had consecutively been bestowed with the status except in the years-1976,1977,&1994.Most importantly, the conferment of this prestigious rank is indeed, restricted to not less than 30 advocates per year, and it is made by the Chief Justice of Nigeria based on the recommendation that emerged from the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee.
This application indeed, propelled a young lawyer to work assiduously to attain the prestigious rank. It is eminently asserted by a lapsed atheist that “As a standout repository of knowledge and experience, the story of every given SAN deserved to be told, for such a guru of the Law to give up the ghost without writing an autobiography or possessing a biography against his nomenclature would be seen as burning down an entire library.Consequent upon this,it has ignited the question as to “Whether a SAN can appear before inferior courts in Nigeria” which will be answered in the next paragraph.

Without an iota of argument,the status of the SAN is deemed as a noble rank in Nigeria.It is the apex status any minister in the temple of justice can attain,and it equally come with privileges.Years back,a question had been raised,as to “whether a SAN can appear before an inferior court”?It is very crucial to understand that the fons et origo (hereinafter referred to as the constitution) did not deploy the phrases inferior and superior courts,they are deployed mainly for comfort’s sake in the academic lingo. Be that as it may, the superior courts are aptly captured in section 6(5) of the constitution thus –
(a)the Supreme court of Nigeria;
(b)the Court of Appeal
(c)the Federal High court;
(d) the High court of the Federal Capital Territory,Abuja;
(e)a High court of a State
(f) the Sharia Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory Abuja;
(g) a Sharia court of appeal of a State
(h) the Customary Court of Appeal of the Federal Capital Territory,Abuja;
(i)a Customary Court of Appeal of a State
It is very glaring from the above that courts such as area, customary courts are excluded, they are known as the inferior courts. On this, the name inferior courts is onced jettisoned by a legal practitioner—Balogun Sofiyyullah Esq— in an online webinar, he opined that, it is better to say “courts that are not superior instead of saying inferior courts, because inferior courts serve as demeaning to the prestigious legal profession.”

Above all, the issue whether a SAN can appear before an inferior court emerged for determination in the case of REGISTERED TRUSTEES OF ECWA CHURCH v.IJESHA (1999) 13 (NWLR) (pt 635)368,where the court of Appeal held in disaffirmation.The court’s ratio decidendi (reason for decision) was centered on SAN (privileges and functions) Rules,2004 (herein known as SAN Rules),the principal Law regulating the affairs of the SAN and the literal interpretation of the rules for proper guidance,and clarity sake,the supra SAN rules are aptly captioned hereunder:
•A Senior Advocate of Nigeria may appear as counsel in any criminal cause or matter before any court of superior record with or without another counsel.
• A Senior Advocate of Nigeria shall not apply for or issue originating process or any other process from or application before a court in any cause or matter except in relation to for process those matters in which he is entitled to appear pursuant to rules 2 and 3 of these Rules.
•In these Rules, unless the context otherwise requires, superior court of record means the Supreme Court of Nigeria, the Court of Appeal, the Federal High Court, any State High Court, or any other court or tribunal with powers not less than those of a High Court.
Flowing from the above,it is visible to the blind and audible to the deaf,that the position seems to have been settled.Nonetheless,17 years after this decision, the Magistrate court of Lagos (an inferior court)in Attorney General of Lagos v.Person Unknown (2016) ALL FWLR(LPT 815),held that a SAN can appear before a magistrate court and by reasoning,all inferior courts.

Finally, there is no gainsaying in denying the fact that SANs are indeed the Gurus of the Law, on the authority of historical blessing which was narrated by one freelance journalist—MAXIM UZOATI— thus: “Recently, a mere letter from a well-known SAN nearly killed a self-advertised king. Here is how it happened. There was so much trouble in a certain town in the Southeast over the creation of the so-called Autonomous Communities. One man who would rather rule in Hell than serve in Paradise, as John Milton wrote in Paradise Lost, led the charge of the dismemberment of the town, and crowned himself the king of his miniscule autonomous community. The prominent leaders of the town who would not want their homeland split into puny communities got a distinguished SAN to dispatch a letter to the uppity “king.” When the letter got into the man’s hands, he screamed “SAN!” and promptly fainted. Traumatized members of his community had to rally to great lengths to bring him back to life. As his acute palpitation was giddily transcending to chronic trepidation, the man kept muttering in Igbo: “Igwe ejee nga!” The expression simply translates to: “The king goes to jail!” It took no time at all to dawn on the man and his tiny community that they could not muster the resources to hire another SAN to undertake the imminent court battle on their behalf. To save himself from the abomination of a king going to jail, the man had to plead with the potentates of the larger town to ask the SAN to drop the case as he no longer had any use for the autonomous community he planned to lead.”

In the light of the above and without a scintilla of doubt, the ensuing content of this treatise, has justified SAN as a brainchild of Queen’s Counsel Institution vide the conceptual clarification, the main topic and the brief history of the both key concepts,interalia.

God bless the legal profession!
God bless the newly conferred SANS!
God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!

Jimoh AbdulGaniy Adisa is an LL.B 300 Student at Faculty of Law, Bayero University, Kano, an award winning writer, educator, and a Legal researcher.He is the Deputy Director of Research and Litigation (Islamic Law) Equity Chamber, and a Law Clinician. In a similar fashion, the Current Assistant Secretary General of National Association of Kwara State Law Student, BUK Chapter. He can be reached via the following social media handles:


J.O Asien: Introduction to Nigerian Legal System ,2nd Edition

Universal Dictionary.

gurus-of-the-law-known-as-sans-by- Uzor <> accessed 2nd of December, 2023

<,with%20or%20without%20another%20counsel> accessed 7th December, 2023



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