HUMAN rights lawyer, Femi Falana, SAN, has accused senior lawyers of “knowing all corrupt judges and court officials,” insisting that, “the information is freely circulated among lawyers. Members of the public also know judges who collect money from them either directly or through lawyers or court clerks.”
Falana in a paper titled Access To Justice: Socio-Cultural, Economic And Geographical Limitations Thereto-A Critique and delivered today at an event by the Ondo State Judiciary stated that, “If the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is committed to the eradication of judicial corruption, it has the capacity to do so. With 120 branches spread across the country, the NBA can police judges, lawyers and court officials with a view to stamping out corrupt practices.”
Falana also said that, “When the Ghana Bar Association was paying lip service to corruption, a journalist decided to video record judges who were negotiating and collecting bribes. At the end of the recording he exposed, named and shamed the indicted judges. They were promptly investigated by the Ghana Judicial Council and dismissed from the bench.”
According to him, “Because the NBA was condemning corruption without adopting any concrete measures to stop it, the security and anti-graft agencies recently seized the initiative and arrested judges in the dead of the night to the eternal embarrassment of the legal profession.
To prevent any further embarrassment of our judges, the NBA and NJC ought to adopt an inbuilt mechanism for exterminating the menace of corruption from the bar and bench.”
Falana said, “Although the right of every person to access justice in Nigeria is constitutionally guaranteed, the quality of justice obtainable is determined by their economic wherewithal under the prevailing peripheral capitalist system. Notwithstanding the denial of access to justice by socioeconomic factors the human rights community has ensured the relaxation of locus standi in public interest litigation and its complete abolition in the enforcement of human rights.”
Falana’s paper read in part: “The Legal Aid Act and the National Human Rights Commission Act have also been amended to compel the government to make provision for rendering free legal services to indigent citizens involved in civil and criminal litigation. The Administration of Criminal Justice Act has humanized the criminal justice system by obviating delay in criminal trials. It is however regrettable to note that our judges and lawyers have refused to take advantage of the relevant adjectival and procedural laws to prevent the denial of access to justice to disadvantaged and vulnerable people in the society.
“We need judges who are prepared to insist that their hands cannot be tied by unjust laws to do injustice even if the heavens would fall. It is not sufficient for our judges to quote Lord Denning with relish. Our judges must emulate him by ensuring that the gates of our courts are flung open to citizens with genuine grievances. Like Justice Krishner Iyer of India our judges must actualize the socioeconomic rights enshrined in Chapter 2 of the Constitution and not leave them inchoate and barren.
“Like Justice Akinola Aguda our judges must always realise that the law can be used to promote social justice in a manner that the commonwealth is not concentrated in the hands of a few while majority of the people wallow in abject poverty. And like Chief Gani Fawehinmi SAN who successfully defeated the anachronistic doctrine of locus standi our lawyers should challenge other obnoxious laws and legal principles which have denied the Nigerian people access to justice.”
“To check the growing culture of executive lawlessness and official impunity in the country public interest litigation ought to be encouraged and promoted. To this effect the anachronistic doctrine of locus standi should be abolished. The doctrine of locus standi should be relaxed in public interest cases as laid down by the Supreme Court in Fawehinmi v Akilu. In order to accelerate the determination of corruption cases in our courts the Buhari administration decided to sponsor an Executive Bill for the establishment of a special court for the trial of corruption cases. Although the bill was submitted to the national assembly over a year ago the federal legislators have not deemed it fit to pass the crucial bill into law for reasons best known to them. Hence corruption cases have been subjected to inordinate delays in our courts which are congested with many other cases.”
“The Chief Justice of Nigeria, the Honourable Justice Walter Onnoghen, has intervened in a decisive manner by issuing a Directive to all heads of courts in Nigeria to create special juficial divisions for the exclusive trial of corruption cases. A monitoring committee headed by Justice Ayo Salami, retired President of the Court of Appeal has been constituted to monitor the performance of the judges assigned to handle corruption cases.”
“No doubt, the timely intervention of the Chief Justice will go a long way to speed up the trial of corruption cases in all out courts. To make a success of the directive it is suggested that the Chief Judges of the States and the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal be directed to issue Practice Directions similar to the Federal High Court Practice Directions for the trial of corruption cases. However, to ensure the success of the progressive Directive the Chief Justice should ensure that the Supreme Court (Criminal Appeals) Practice Directions; Court of Appeal (Criminal Appeals) Practice Directions and Federal High Court Practice Directions issued in 2013 by the Heads of the respective courts are fully complied with.”
“The said Practices Directions which are designed to give priority to the trial and appeals arising from cases of corruption, money laundering, rape and kidnapping have not been put to use in any of the courts. Now is the time to apply them including the provision on the service of processes on parties by electronic mail addresses, facsimile number and GSM Telephone number or any other available mode of communication. In the light of recent development in the global fight against corruption the Chief Justice may wish to direct the heads of courts to amend the relevant practice directions.
“Having regard to the fact that some of the corruption cases were filed about 17 years ago the creation of the special judicial divisions of our courts to deal with corruption cases will enable the federal government to have access to justice. It was not only the federal government that was denied access to justice. All the victims of the grand corruption perpetrated by the indicted public officers were denied access to justice. But with religious application of the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act and the relevant practice directions never again will a group of corrupt politically exposed persons and their lawyers block access to justice and hold the country to ransom.”