04 January 2019
There has been a raging storm in the past couple of weeks and up to date amongst lawyers on the calculation of post-call years as it relates to the payment of practice fees. So that the raging arguments would come alive in our minds, we would, illustratively talk about the New Wigs that were called to the Nigerian Bar late in November 2018 and, who, as part of their qualifying processes, had to pay their Practice Fees. The question then arises, how would their post-call years be calculated for the purposes of determining the practice fees that they need to pay this year?
That question has incidentally been placed before the Federal High Court for determination in Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/925/2018: Olumide Babalola v The Chief Registrar, Supreme Court of Nigeria and the Court is yet to make a determination thereon. However, the extant position, as deposed to in a Counter Affidavit that was filed on the Defendant’s behalf in the afore-numbered Suit on 22 November 2018 is as follows:
4(c) “That upon call to bar, enrolment in the Supreme Court of Nigeria and the subsequent payment of the first annual practicing fees, a legal practitioner becomes one year old at the bar.
4(d) “That upon the payment of the second practicing fee at the first anniversary of the person’s Call to the Bar, the legal practitioner becomes two years at the Bar and the counting and reckoning continues in that order.”
In effect, the New Wigs that were called to the Bar in November 2018 – again, using them merely illustratively – will, as at January 2019 be deemed, pursuant to the extant practice, to be two years old at the Bar and will have to pay the Practice Fee that corresponds with their 2-year Post-Call standing. Is it likely that the Federal High Court will uphold that extant position? The answer to that question lies within the Judge’s bosom and is not known to us. However, in order not to be prejudiced howsoever, seeing as the payment of Practice Fees, determines, amongst others, your right of audience before the courts, we would advise lawyers to adhere to the extant calculation method as set out in the Supreme Court Chief Registrar’s afore-reproduced Counter Affidavit pending the hearing and determination of this Suit.
What would happen in the hypothetical event that the Judge before whom this Suit is heard disagrees with the extant calculation method? What, in particular, would happen to the hypothetical excess fees that would have been paid by lawyers based on the extant calculation method? The answer to that question goes into the realms of speculation and we would rather not indulge in that exercise save to state that not only would we cross that bridge if we get there but would also ensure justice for all affected lawyers. For the moment, we believe that the prejudice that lawyers will suffer if, prior to the determination of this Suit, they underpay their Practice Fees based on calculations that deviate from the extant post-call years calculation method as set out in the Chief Registrar’s Counter Affidavit,far outweighs the speculative prospective benefits from any such underpayment.
Paul Usoro, SAN