Echoes From the Courtroom: The Senior Advocate/Junior Advocate Dichotomy at the Appellate Court: Rethinking the Existing Order

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Court-of-Appeal
Court-of-Appeal

I have argued at a forum that advocacy is gradually going into extinction. With the Rules of Courts which mandates counsel to reduce arguments into writing, judges have recently adopted a common phrase to politely shut out any advocate who wishes to display his advocacy skill. The moment you adopt your address as is prescribed by the Rules of Court and you attempt to make a sentence there after, the Judge would come out for you;

“Counsel, is what you are about to say not reflected in your address?”  If the response to the template question is in the affirmative, the Judge would come harder on you, “counsel, do not waste time, I would read the address”. As a fine advocate, the only thing you can say is “As the court pleases”.

I thought this “shut out syndrome” is limited to High Courts. It is worse at Appellate Courts. One can argue that Senior Advocates enjoys a lot of privilege due to their status. I guess it comes with the ranks (Senior Advocate of Nigeria). The only concern is that these privileges by the bench to the learned silks sometimes appear discriminatory as against other counsel in court. The average number of Senior Advocate you find at Appellate Court is between ten and twenty. Part of the privileges the Senior Advocates enjoys is that their matters are called out of turn. This is not a problem; it is part of the privilege they are entitled to. But, here comes the practice which I assume is discriminatory.

I use the Court of Appeal as an example. Order 19 Rule 9 of the Court of Appeal 2016 provides that oral argument will be allowed at the hearing of appeal to emphasize and clarify the written argument appearing in the brief already filed in court. This rule is well structured for Senior Advocates. I doubt if it applies to “Junior Advocates”. The moment a Senior Advocate is arguing on appeal, or making any submission, the Senior Advocate can argue his brief for hours without interruption from their Lordships. While the Senior Advocates are having a field day with their briefs, you would begin to wonder if the whole day would be dedicated to them. The moment the Senior Advocates are done with their show and the floor is left for “Junior Advocates”, their Lordships would immediately realize how long the proceeding for the day lasted. It is at this stage that they recall the template question and adopt it on need basis. As a “Junior Advocate”, you are expected to adopt your brief and sit down. The moment you attempt to exercise the little privilege Order 19 Rule 9 of the Court of Appeal Rules confers on you, their Lordship would ask “is what you are about to say not reflected in your brief”? If the response to this template question is in the affirmative, the Justices would come harder on you, “counsel, do not waste time, we would read the brief”.

Surely, all animal are equal but some are more equal than others.

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