By Innocent Anaba, Festus Ahon & Ikechukwu Nnochiri
National Judicial Council, NJC, has set up a Corruption and Financial Crimes Cases Trial Monitoring Committee, CQTRIMCO, to monitor cases of corruption cases in the country.
Chief Judge of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, who made the disclosure, yesterday in Asaba, Delta State, at the on-going 5th Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Criminal Justice Reform Conference, also limited the number of lawyers appearing for a litigant in courts in the country to five, to address the problem of congestion in courts.
The Chief Justice also revealed that he turned down request by judges across the country to be allowed to form an association to speak up for the judiciary when it is attacked.
This came as the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, Justice Ishaq Bella, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, Justice Marshal Umukoko, Chief Judge of Delta State, among others, called for an efficient and proper funding of the criminal justice system in the country for it to serve the people.
The CJN, in his statement read by Justice Roseline Bozimo, Administrator, National Judicial Institution, NJI, said: “Although numerous challenges are confronting the criminal justice sector, there is a determined resolve on the part of the judiciary to face these challenges squarely, specially so that we can create a better future not only for the judiciary but also for our country.
“In the light of the foregoing, the NJC under my watch has constituted the Corruption and Financial Crimes Cases Trial Monitoring Committee, which has hit the ground running.
“The directive to all chief judges to designate special courts to handle corruption cases is also a step in the right direction as lingering corruption cases will be expeditiously dispensed with. I have also directed that lawyers representing parties in our courts must not be more than five as numerous lawyers appearing for one litigant is time wasting.
“To enhance justice administration, henceforth, lawyers who have acquired the legal email can now communicate electronically with the courts. However, by July 16, 2018, this will become mandatory. The Supreme Court will only serve processes by electronic means (Legal mail) on all matters.
Meanwhile, Chairman of the NBA Criminal Justice Reform Committee, Mr Arthur Obi-Okafor, SAN, lamented that the country’s criminal justice system has remained weak despite the passage of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, due largely to lack of political will and resources to implement the Act.
Justice Bello, who was key speaker, was particularly concerned about the issue of attitude of persons and agencies involved in the country’s justice system.
Justice Bello, said the objectives of the ACJA 2015 would not be achieved without adequate funding.
He said, “Most cases are lost in court because witnesses are not there. Unless you make financial provision for them, some of them cannot come to court due to economic hardship.”.
The Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, on his part stressed the need for criminal justice system reform, saying same “Is in line with our belief that a reform system will inevitably lay the foundation for an improved and more humane state in this country.”
According to him, in a statement read on his behalf, “The problems of congestion of prisons, unhealthy living conditions, lagging rehabilitative process, juvenile policy, trial awaiting periods, investigative processes and overall credibility of the process, are all strong factors that we must address, if we are to meet a global standard of humane prison system and an unbiased, incorruptible legal process.”
Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN, in a statement read on his behalf, said “From the experience of the users of ACJA in the courts, I bellieve that the reform of the criminal justice system in Nigeria is work in progress.
Also, the Inspector General of Police, Mr Ibrahim Idris, represented by CP Legal, Mr David Igbodo, noted that “The issue of recording confessional statements in a retrievable video compact disc has some problem.”.
Governor Okowa, who declared the three days event open, said, “it is exigent that we devise a template for the prison system that focuses on correction and reformation, as against punishment and stigmatisation. Therefore, we must objectively, dispassionately and rigorously proffer solutions that will ensure the prison system only takes away the freedom of the offenders, not their lives.
“Towards this end, inmates must be empowered with the knowledge and skills to become productive citizens upon regaining freedom, instead of reverting to a life of crime because they have no other choice.”
On his part, Speaker, Delta State House of Assembly, Chief Sheriff Oborevwori said; “As a nation, we have made a leap in an effort in reforming our Criminal Justice System through the passage into Law of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.
Mean while, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onnoghen, yesterday revealed that he turned down request by Judges across the country to be allowed to form an association to speak up for the judiciary when it is attacked.
He said the proposed Association of Nigerian Judges, if allowed, would have had the mandate of defending embattled judges, just like the Nigeria Bar Association does for lawyers, since sitting judicial officers are barred from granting media interviews.
The CJN who disclosed that the proposal was presented to him during the 2017 All Nigerians Judges’ Conference, said he rejected the idea, considering that the primary responsibility of a judicial officer is adjudication and not advocacy.
“The honourable Judges’ position was that periodic press statements issued after the meetings of the National Judicial Council are too few and far between to make any impact.
“My obvious response was an emphatic No! The mandate of a judicial officer is adjudication and not advocacy”, the CJN insisted.
Justice Onnoghen made the revelation while unveiling ‘Apex Quarterly Magazine’, a Supreme Court
publication he said would help to improve the public perception of the judiciary.
He said the publication would help to counter “the widespread perception of the judiciary is an inefficient and corruption-ridden institution lacking integrity and efficiency in performance of its functions”.
According to the CJN, “I consider the poor public perception kd our arm of government a grave concern that requires special effort to correct by telling the world the true state of things in the judiciary.
“As I have said several times in the past, cautiously opening up the judiciary to the public helps to change the wrong perception people have of the activities of the Courts. Where people are well informed, incidents of rumours, fake news, false allegations, petitions, among others, are reduced.
“And as I have always insisted, we must be in absolute control of our Institutions and Courts as well as what information we put in the public domain. This effort will ensure that we do less of damage control, and more of pro-active dissemination of information.
“The Apex Quarterly Magazine, which I will be unveiling presently, is one, but certainly not the only step taken to show the world what we do in the judiciary”, he added.
Besides, the CJN said he has directed the Chief Registrar of the apex court to reconstitute the court’s website management committee to ensure among other things, that Chamber’s Sittings were uploaded on the site not later than 24 hours after every sitting on Wednesdays.
“I also directed that the website should be re-designed to render it compatible with both desktops and handheld devices. In addition, I gave instructions that the Court’s Practice Directions should be regularly uploaded and updated while the bio-data of Justice of the Supreme Court and the Cause List should be regularly updated.
“In the same vein, I have directed that all judgments and decisions of the Court should be uploaded on the website within seven days of delivery.
“The objective of these directives is to, as I said earlier, cautiously open the judiciary to the public”, the CJN stated.
Aside serving and retired Supreme Court Justices, other dignitaries at the event included the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, Acting Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Abdul Abdu-Kafarati, President of the National Industrial Court, Justice Babatunde Adejumo, as well as heads of courts from various states of the federation.