The Chairman of Bi-Courtney Limited, Dr. Wale Babalakin (SAN), on Thursday lent his voice to the raging debate on the propriety of appointing practising lawyers to the Supreme Court as Justices.
Delivering a lecture entitled, “The role of the legal profession in nation building: The Nigerian context,” in Lagos on Thursday, Babalakin, who had been in legal practice for 35 years, posited that the disadvantage of appointing lawyers as Supreme Court Justices outweighed its merit.
The lecture was in honour of the late Kehinde Sofola (SAN), who had a celebrated legal career for over 50 years before he passed on in 2007 at the age of 83.
Babalakin said though lawyers had, in the past, been appointed straight from legal practice to the Supreme Court, such exercise was rare and reserved for legal practitioners with exceptional intellect.
He said the fact that lawyers had been appointed as Justices of the Supreme Court before should not be an excuse to begin to appoint “pedestrian advocates” as judges of the apex court of the land.
He expressed the view that such appointment of lawyers as Justices of the Supreme Court would demoralise serving judges in the high court and the Court of Appeal, who were working hard and waiting to be elevated to the apex court.
Babalakin argued, “In my view, the recent outcry that Senior Advocates of Nigeria should be considered for appointment to the Supreme Court is not a solution to the problems of the judiciary. It may end up compounding the problems.
“All judges should be outstanding. The High Court to the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court should be manned by gifted lawyers. Appointing lawyers directly to the Supreme Court could have a very demoralising effect on those outstanding lawyers who had chosen to go to the High Court with the expectation that they will be commensurately elevated to the higher Benches.
“The fact that you are a good lawyer doesn’t necessarily mean you will be so exceptional as to be a Supreme Court Justice. The protagonist of this proposal mentioned some names that have made it to the Supreme Court directly from the Bar. Dr. Teslim Elias’s curriculum vitae speaks for itself.
“Another judge that was appointed directly to the Supreme Court in another jurisdiction is Mr. Justice Jonathan Sumption. Jonathan Sumption took a first class degree in Medieval History from Oxford University. He was a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford. He has been described as the Brain of Britain.”
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