By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
December 15, marked a fresh legal year in the annals of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) judiciary. The event held at the premises of the High Court headquarters in Maitama district of Abuja saw the crème de la crème of the society and legal luminaries in attendance.
Among those that were present to herald the 2011/2012 legal year of the FCT judiciary was the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Senator Bala Mohammed.
Aside creating a veritable platform for the judiciary to take a retrospective glance at its performance in the last dispensation, the occasion equally afforded the Chief Judge, Justice Lawal Hassan Gummi who doubles as the chairman of the FCT Judicial Service Committee, JSC an ample opportunity to canvass need for a more cordial relationship between the Bench and the Bar.
In his speech, Justice Gummi, maintained that, “the administration of justice stands on a tripod, i.e, the Bar, the Bench and the public. As the Bar is the hinge of this tripod, I find it necessary to say a word or two on the Bar/ Bench relationship, especially in the light of recent events and happenings. We are the conveyor belt of justice.
“There must be a cordial relationship between the Bar and the Bench, lawyers and judges, as we both play very important roles in the administration of justice. Our code enjoins us to strive to maintain the dignity, appropriated to the judicial office.
“The judge is an arbiter of law and facts for proper resolution of disputes and a symbol of freedom under the rule of law. As a result, we are held to a high standard and should aspire to conduct ourselves with the dignity accorded that esteemed position.
“Conversely, we are humans. That makes us fallible and subject to societal pressures and challenges. In the midst of this pressure, we cannot complain, neither can we carry placards in protest or proceed on a strike or even respond publicly to criticism. A judge cannot publicly cry out when hurt by the system.
“In the extreme cases in some jurisdictions, the executive have been heard to operate a system of reward and punishment that would make a judge think twice before certain decisions are taken. In all and by tradition, we still cannot respond.
“Traditionally, the Bar has always taken up the gauntlet and the challenge to speak for the judiciary. These days and sadly, it has become the opposite. The Bench in recent times has been maligned and castigated by the very ones that should protect it, cuddle it and represent its interest in all fronts.
“I think that the Bar has to some extent failed in this regard. Lawyers should speak out and protect the Bench. Even the tongue and the teeth in their age long symbiotic relationship sometimes have squabbles. Our differences will from time to time rear its head. That is normal. What may be abnormal is the way some of those issues have been tackled.
“Issues affecting the Bar and the Bench should be addressed at the appropriate quarters. Cases where the appointment of judges or issues of their discipline are openly challenged are inappropriate or the decisions of courts made a subject of vicious and virulent debates at hurriedly organized vitriolic press conferences, calls for serious concern.
“The end result is a decline in the respect our well cherished institution had and the society turns its back on us and the confidence of the common man in the judicial process is completely eroded, and the cumulative effect? Faith in us is lost, and the society degenerates into the Hobbesian state of nature where life is short, nasty and brutish simply because society by our action are forced to believe that where the chicken is judge, the cockroach cannot get justice. May it not happen in out time; may it never happen at all.” Justice Gummi added.
Meantime, in the outgoing 2010/ 2011 legal year at the FCT, a total of 10, 891 cases were filed at the high court, 6,109 case-files were brought forward from the 2009/ 2010 legal year, out of which a total of 8, 186, with 8, 814 cases pending.
At the Magistrate level, 8, 023 cases were filed in 2010/ 2011, 9,758 brought forward from previous year, 7, 661 cases disposed off and a total of 10, 120 cases still pending.
According to record, 295 cases were received at the Sharia Court of Appeal last legal year, 210 disposed and 85 pending while Area Courts got 7924 cases, 5,645 disposed with 2, 279 case-files still pending.
Besides, the FCT Customary Court of Appeal, received 129 cases, 88 disposed, 41 pending while the Customary Courts got 1,811 cases in 2010/ 2011, disposed a total of 444 with 1,367 cases pending.
The Chief Judge who noted that there was increase in the inflow of cases in the last two years, maintained that it is possible to keep a lot of the cases out of court if the Alternative Dispute Resolution, ADR, mechanism is embraced, adding that the speed of disposal will increase if pre-trial procedures are enhanced.
“I will urge that in this year, we all activate the use of Order 33 of our Rules more often to hasten trials and quicken the dispensation of justice, some of our proposed areas of amendments include serving processes on a corporation, the adoption of the Order 11 of the Lagos Rules popularly referred to as summary judgment procedure and most importantly, the inclusion of pre-trial conferences.”