The Legal profession remains to be one of the most regulated in the world. As early as the Biblical Exodus days, judges and officers of the law were to be persons of high moral character, integrity and impartiality, and as Moses found such persons, he single- handedly picked judges from such persons at the advice of his father- in- law; Jethro. Nations alike, have set up both policy and legislative mechanisms to ensure that legal practitioners and judges are selected from well- trained and disciplined persons who display high moral fitness.
Institutions have thereby been established to train, regulate and discipline the elite in the legal profession, ostensibly to maintain its prestigious nature. In Kenya, the Legal Education Act No 27 of 2012 provides for regulative mechanisms for legal education and training while the Advocates Act No 18 of 1989 regulates admission to the roll of advocates as well as practice as such. Under the Kenyan law, one has to pass a Four years’ undergraduate program, attend further training at the Kenya School of Law, sit for and pass the Bar Examination set and administered by the Council of Legal Education, attend at least 6 months’ pupillage under an authorised legal practitioner and thereafter petition the Chief Justice for Admission to the Roll of Advocates.
At the time one presents their documents in the petition to the Chief Justice, they are required to have satisfied the Kenya School of Law, the Council of Legal Education, the Law Society of Kenya and the general public as to their qualifications and moral fitness. The Chief Justice is thereby required under Kenyan law to consider the Petition and ceremoniously order that the Petitioner be admitted to the Roll within 90 days in an event also attended by representatives of both the Council of Legal Education and the Law Society. The time for admission to the roll of advocates is at the Chief Justice’s and no one else’s discretion, and more often than not, qualified lawyers have taken longer than 6 months waiting for the Chief Justice to settle on a calendar date.
Under the Kenyan law, in the absence of the Chief Justice, no other judicial or administrative officer may authorize the admission to the Roll. In cases where the Chief Justice dies, retires or is unable to perform the duties of the office, the qualified lawyers have to wait till a new person is recruited by the Judicial Service Commission and appointed to office by the President; another ceremonial duty at one man’s discretion.
This idea to hold the fate of qualified persons and the interests of the public at a one- man’s discretional show may have originated from the Biblical Old Testament, or did it? In the New Testament, a ‘panel’ of Apostles were authorised to appoint/ordain qualified persons as stewards, deacons and officers of the law.
The Nigerian legal system appears to have adopted this Apostline approach. Under the Nigerian Legal Practitioners Act of 1962, re-enacted in 1975, a Body of Benchers, a body corporate with perpetual succession consisting of the Chief Justice, all Supreme Court Judges, the Court of Appeal President, the Attorney General, Chief Judge of the High Court and other federal High Courts, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, the Chairman of the Nigerian Council of Legal Education and 30 reputable legal practitioners appointed by the Bar Association is established. The Body of Benchers is responsible for the formal call to the Bar of persons seeking to become legal practitioners.
As a body corporate, it conducts itself in an organised, open and transparent manner on admission of lawyers into the Nigerian Bar, as legal practitioners. Similarly, under the Nigerian legislation, the conferment to the rank of Senior Advocate is conducted by the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee consisting of the Chief Justice, a number of judges and 5 Senior Advocates. In Nigeria, they do not have to wait for the President to confer this Honour to their great legal minds.
Performance of certain obligations such as call to the bar, conferment to the Rank of Senior Counsel or appointment of judges, would better be administered if left to institutions consisting of persons rather than being left at the behest of very busy persons who may take an unnecessary and significantly longer time.
Brian Onyango is a qualified Kenyan Lawyer and the Deputy Editor- In- Chief of the People’s Accolade Law Magazine