Law & Human Rights

January 4, 2018

2018: Senior advocates set agenda for bar, bench

NNPC wrong to reject my FOI request for accountability—Falana

Falana

By Abdulwahab Abdulah

Over the years, the nation’s  justice delivery system has suffered some levels of defeats owing to many deficiencies. These include but not limited to court cases management, corruption, non implementation of court judgements  and abuse of court processes. Eventually, the development has led to many people feeling the pains to the extent of almost losing interest in the country’s court system. The Vanguard Law and Human Rights was in town to seek senior lawyers’ opinion on the way forward in 2018.

Here are the comments:

Falana

Bar and Bench must implement provisions of ACJA Mr Femi Falana, SAN

“In enhancing the criminal justice system the Bar and the Bench should ensure a zealous implementation of the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015. To achieve the principal objectives of the Act, the Administration of Criminal Justice Monitoring Committee must be allowed to monitor the prosecution of all criminal matters   including corruption cases and decongest our prisons in line with sections 110 and 469 of the Act.

“The chief judges of the Federal Capital Territory and the states should appoint designate chief magistrates to conduct monthly visitations to police stations and other detention centres in the country. I expect the 125 branches of the Nigerian Bar Association and the human rights community to take advantage of the Act to put an end to illegal detention of Nigerian citizens by the Police and other law enforcement agencies.

“Instead of appealing to the government to obey court orders the NBA should adopt measures that will force the Buhari administration to embrace the rule of law. State governments which have not adopted the Administration of Criminal Justice Act Act should do so without any further delay. With respect to civil proceedings the uniform rules of procedure are capable to enhance justice but the courts have to engage in case management.”

Judiciary must be independent, fearless Mallam Yusuf Ali, SAN

“We need a fearless, courageous, strong virile and independent Bar, This is because, it is the backbone of the judiciary. We need a bar that is articulate and alive to its responsibilities as the voice of the voiceless and the helper of helpless. Thank God, the Nigerian Bar Association has shown over  the year that it is partner in progress with the ordinary citizen. To be able to play its role as social engineer, the bar must continue with what it has been doing over the years. It must remain committed, remain dedicated, to be able to support the helpless people in our country. And it should stand at all times, whenever the independence of the judiciary is being threatened by anybody. It must act as the bulwark against oppression. And if the NBA gets it right, it would assist in no little measure to help the judiciary.

“For the judiciary to discharge its duty very well and creditably, it must be free, must be courageous, be independent, it must be able to call the spade by its name and remain absolutely incorruptible. Now if the judiciary is able to possess these qualities,  all of us will be the beneficiaries of the qualitative judiciary.”

Justice is not sentiments but issues of Law—Mr. Layi Babatunde, SAN

“The new year, offers a good opportunity for the Bench and the Bar to work together, with a view to enhancing Justice delivery that is timely and fair. Our calling as legal practitioners, is beyond business or sheer money making. It is a calling to be partakers in the higher ideal of justice delivery. It’s a great honor for which our country, indeed humanity will be grateful if we discharged it well.

“Nigerians have enough frustrations already, we should make it our bounden duty to lessen it by making the process serve it’s purpose. There is a link between injustice and insecurity, we will do well to be conscious of it. It is not too late, to join hands to build a secured and prosperous country, of which we will all be proud.

On Appellate Court

“Perhaps it is time to look more closely into the suggestion of Tobi JSC ; (of blessed memory ) that the various divisions of the court of appeal should have an exchange Programme for their judgements, so that the right hand will know what the left hand has done or is doing. That I believe, will help ameliorate the incidents of conflicting judgements, more so that not all of their judgements get reported. We Lawyers, can also do better to expedite the determination of cases, by meaningful reliance on the body of case Law, particularly of Supreme Court judgements already available. I believe that this is the essence of the doctrine of judicial precedent. Why take coal to Newcastle over and over again?  One thing we must never lose sight of though , is that Justice in it’s true sense, is always according to Law and not sentiments or emotions . “

Supreme court must be fearless and consistent — Mr. Babatunde Fashanu, SAN

The Bench: “To me, the expectations from the bench are-to be independent of the other arms of government especially the executive which wields enormous powers, by dispensing cases in such a way as to protect the rights of ordinary citizens under the Constitution.

“The Supreme Court, especially, must be fearless in its decisions and should also be consistent to reduce the incidence of its own conflicting judgements and those of different divisions of the Court of Appeal.

“The Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, has engendered high expectations in the land of the Judiciary ‘s cooperation in the anti-corruption war by his recent statement that special courts will be set up to hear corruption cases. I commend the CJN for this move and earnestly await that happening because it is the harbinger of a revolution in the anti-corruption war if well managed.

The Bar:

“The NBA is expected to be more vitriolic in bringing out to the fore the lapses of the government in the administration of justice especially where it relates to the trampling of citizens’ rights and disobedience of court orders.

“Same goes for inconsistencies and somersaults in the government’s war against corruption and any perceived ineptitude in   general administration. The NBA has been too passive leaving most criticisms to discordant tunes of individual lawyers.

“The current NBA has set up panels to look into certain areas affecting the dispensation of justice in Nigeria, especially legal education. We expect positive results out of this.”

Independence of the Judiciary must be respected —Mr Kolawole Olaniyan, Ph.D, author of Corruption and Human Rights Law in Africa said, “The government has to respect the independence of the judiciary including by promptly implementing and complying with several court decisions and judgements such as those on the release from detention of the leader of the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), Ibraheem El-Zakzaky and his wife; and on the publication by the government of up-to-date information on recovered stolen funds since the return of civilian rule in 1999. With respect to the latter, the court ordered the publication of detailed information on the total amount of stolen public assets that have so far been recovered by Nigeria, the amount that has been spent from the recovered assets and details of projects on which recovered funds were spent.”

“The persistent disregard of court orders demonstrates a flagrant – and dangerous – contempt for the rule of law, and has to stop. The independence and integrity of the judiciary will count for nothing if the Muhammadu Buhari government continues to disobey court orders.”

“In sum, Nigerian Judiciary should seize the opportunity to carry out long-awaited measures including those that will secure the effective implementation of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act of 2015; implement numerous outstanding recommendations on the reform of the justice system in Nigeria, and other similar measures that would dramatically improve the country’s criminal justice system and allow access to effective remedies for everyone, particularly the most disadvantaged and vulnerable sectors of the population.”

Justice sector must focus on human rights, end conflicting judgements at appellate courts Joseph Otteh, ED, Access to Justice

“Immediately taking steps to improve Nigeria’s justice sector would mark a major step forward for human rights in Nigeria, and help contribute to the government’s efforts to fight grand corruption.

“In 2018, the Judiciary should make a full-court press towards developing a more strategic engagement plan for transforming the delivery of services by our courts and delivering that transformation.

Data emerging from credible sources have shown that our Judiciary is distressed and has been bumping along the bottom for so long a time. Court delays are creating widespread disillusionments and undermining citizen confidence in the justice system. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) and National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) have reported that corruption is widespread in the Judiciary, the NJC itself has found astonishing evidence of corruption among a number of Judges.

The Judiciary cannot afford to fold its arms in 2018 or come short of what is required to reboot our justice delivery system and make it work a lot better. It must wake up and harness more creative and bolder ideas for transformation. What the Judiciary is doing now is not nearly enough to lift the judicial services system out of the doldrums.

First, the Judiciary needs a strategic and time-bound framework within which to undertake this enterprise which must be agreed by all stakeholders. A sort of vision of what we must do to liberate the system from the present stagnation and recession. Then the Judiciary should commission empirical studies to examine the sticking points and the data behind them. And then take bold, far reaching actions to change how things work within it. All not change needs huge resources to accomplish.

The Judiciary must also look to end the problem of conflicting judgements at appellate courts as another illustration. Litigants are confused by these conflicts and will gamble their way to highest courts to explore whether the composition of an appellate court will elect to apply a line of (conflicting) precedents favourable to their case. This incentivizes more litigation, and more congestion of court dockets, not less.

Furthermore, current Nigerian jurisprudence tells litigants they can prevail over their opponents if they muster enough technical fire  power, and so, for every perceived misstep in a proceeding, an objection is raised on the  “jurisdiction” of the court  and the matter is fought up to the Supreme Court, with the possibility that the Supreme Court, perhaps, will sustain the objection.

With respect to the Supreme Court, it is sometimes difficult to avoid the feeling that that Court, by its sometimes  formalistic,  legalistic interpretations, has encouraged litigants who have no answer to a suit filed, to hold fast to purely technical straws, in order to defeat the case against them.    If our Supreme Court were more beholden to  a liberal, egalitarian and justice-centred philosophy of interpretation and adjudication, there will be less fuss over technicalities and cases would be  decided more  on their merits. Where this is so, a lot of unnecessary appeals will cease to congest appellate courts and this can be a good way to reduce the delays in our appellate courts.

In 2018, our Judiciary must not only aspire to transform the organic infrastructure for delivering justice, but the very principles that ought to guarantee real justice to our society.”