The Body of Benchers is responsible for the formal call to the Bar of persons seeking to become legal practitioners in Nigeria. It was established under the Legal Practitioners Act (LPA), now CAP L11, LFN 2004.
The Body is composed of the Chief Justice of Nigeria and all Justices of the Supreme Court, the President of the Court of Appeal, the Attorney-General of the Federation, the Presiding Justices of the Court of Appeal Divisions, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, the Chief Judges of the States of the Federation, the Attorneys-General of the States of the Federation, the Chairman of the Council of Legal Education, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), thirty legal practitioners nominated by the NBA, and such number of persons not exceeding ten, who appear to the Body of Benchers to be eminent members of the legal profession in Nigeria of not less than 15 years post-call standing.
Looking at the composition of the Body of Benchers, 80% of the members are from the judiciary. This necessitated the Body to pass a resolution to the effect that budgetary allocation for the Body of Benchers be routed through the National Judicial Council.
The Body of Benchers is a body corporate with perpetual succession and a common seal. This is provided under Section 3 (2) of the Act. The body can sue and be sued in its own corporate name as it is created by an Act of National Assembly.
Being a body created by an enabling law, the status of the Body as provided under the Legal Practitioners Act is that of an agency of the Federal Government under the Judiciary. In fact, the Body has an equal standing with all the institutions and agencies in the judiciary established by law.
After Nigeria’s Independence the Unsworth Commission of Legal Education was constituted by the then Prime Minister Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. The major recommendation was that henceforth all lawyers should attend a mandatory course at the Nigerian Law School as a pre-condition for enrolment at the Supreme Court.
Subsequently, the Body of Benchers was established in 1971 under the Legal Practitioners Act, Laws of the Federation, Nigeria. At inception, the Body of Benchers took off with few members known as Foundation members. The number grew and continued to expand to the current number as provided for under Section 3 of the Legal Practitioners Act.
Due to the rapid growth of the Body of Benchers, the need to have a Secretariat for administrative purposes arose. The Secretariat of the Body was domiciled at the Nigerian Law School and later moved to the Federal Ministry of Justice which served as its temporary Secretariat. However, administrative incumbencies side-stepped the smooth operation of the activities of the Body whilst in both the Law School and Ministry. Virtually everything about the Body remained static and there was no hope for expansion and growth.
Due to the aforementioned challenges, the Secretariat of the Body was moved to the Supreme Court. However, it still did not tackle the issues. Spirited efforts were made to raise the profile of the Body of Benchers to a dignified level when the decision was reached early in 2007 to provide a temporary Secretariat within the Court of Appeal.
Notwithstanding the above, the Secretariat could not function at optimal level, particularly in the area of funding, hence the need to have its own Secretariat, totally independent from other bodies.
Therefore, in 2012 the Body got a temporary office situated at Plot 1913E, Ganges Street, Near Ministers Hill, Maitama, Abuja.
Call to Bar of lawyers: As earlier pointed out, one of the vital roles of the Body of Benchers is the formal Call to the Bar of persons desirous of becoming legal practitioners. This means that every qualified lawyer in Nigeria, whether belonging to the Bar as a Barrister and solicitor or at the Bench as a judge or magistrate only becomes so qualified by virtue of being called to the Bar by the Body of Benchers and issued a certificate of Call.
Screening of Candidates for Call to the Bar: One of the vital roles the Body of Benchers play is screening of candidates presented by the Nigerian Law School for Call to the Bar. This is to ensure that only fit and proper persons are admitted to the Nigerian Bar. This process becomes necessary in order to avoid admitting persons with criminal records or dubious characters into the legal profession. The sanctity of the profession is maintained through discipline of erring lawyers by the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee.
Discipline of lawyers: Another vital function of the Body of Benchers is the discipline of erring lawyers in Nigeria. This key function is carried out by the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) of the Body of Benchers. Section 10 of the Act establishes the Committee and charged it with the duty of considering and determining any case where it is alleged that a person whose name is on the role has misbehaved in his capacity as a legal practitioner or for any other reason be the subject of proceedings under the Legal Practitioners Act. An appeal against the Directions of the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee goes directly to the Supreme Court.
The Body of Benchers make certain regulations towards upholding the core values of the legal profession. It plays the significant advisory role of ensuring harmonious relationship between the Bar and the Bench on any matter referred to the Body as it relates to the overall development of the legal profession. This important role is discharged by the Elders Committee of the Body.
Section 3 (5) of the Legal Practitioners Act provides that the Body of Benchers shall have the power to make regulations for inter alia determining in connection thereto of any matter which, in the opinion of the Benchers, requires to be determined.
Section 3(5)(a) of the Legal Practitioners Act provides that the Body of Benchers shall have the power to make regulations providing for the composition and quorum of the Benchers for the purpose of the exercise of any functions conferred on the Benchers under the Legal Practitioners Act, and for determining in connection thereto, of any matter which in the opinion of the Benchers, requires to be determined.
Sequel to the powers conferred on the Body of Benchers in (e) above, the Body, in its regulations provided for the establishment of Standing Committees of the Body from time to time and for such purposes as may be determined by the Body.
In compliance with the resolutions passed, the machinery for obtaining Self-Accounting status was put in place. The Body of Benchers was granted Self-Accounting status by the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation in 2013; thereby enabling the Body to have a direct budgetary allocation from the Federation Account in line with the relevant Federal Government’s Financial Regulation Guidelines.
Chief Bandele Aiku, SAN is the current Chairman of the Body of Benchers. He was conferred the rank of Senior ...View Profile
Justice Onnoghen is the current Vice Chairman of the Body of Benchers. He has been a Justice of the Supreme ...View Profile
Justice Mohammed, GCON was Chairman of the Body of Benchers from 2015 to 2016. He was also Chief Justice of ...View Profile
Justice Belgore was Chairman of the Body of Benchers from 1997 to 1998. He is a Life Bencher.View Profile
Justices of the Supreme Court
Justice Muntaka-Coomassie was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1977. After his Call, he proceeded to the Ministry of Justice ...View Profile
Chief Justice Mahmud Mohammed was a Justice of the Court of Appeal and then a Presiding Justice before being appointed ...View Profile
Presiding Justices of the Court of Appeal
Justice Adamu, CFR is the current Presiding Judge of the Court of Appeal, Calabar.View Profile
Justice Amina Augie, CON is the current Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Lagos.View Profile
Justice Ibrahim Auta, OFR is the current Chief Judge of the Federal High Court.View Profile
Justice Ishaq Bello is the current Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.View Profile
Uwemedimo Nwoko, Esq is the current Attorney-General of Akwa-Ibom State.View Profile
Abubakar Malami, SAN is the current Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.View Profile