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Reps reject bill seeking to limit certain cases at appeal courts, reduce workload on Supreme Court

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By Levinus Nwabughiogu-Abuja

House of Representatives, Thursday, rejected a bill seeking to reduce the workload on the Supreme Court by limiting certain cases to the court of appeals.

Sponsored by Hon. Onofiok Luke from Akwa Ibom State, the bill was presented to be read for a second time.

Essentially, the bill sought the amendment of the 1999 constitution to make appeal granted by the leave of the court.

Giving the background of the bill in the debate at Thursday plenary, Luke said Supreme Court of Nigeria, established by sections 6 and 230 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, is the apex court in Nigeria with general civil and criminal jurisdiction that spans across all states of the Federation.

He said that the jurisdiction of the court was unlimited, expanding to all cases ranging from different areas of law including constitutional, electoral, administrative, tax, entertainment, copyright and labour laws.

According to him, the Constitution pegged membership of the court at 21, and the court has not, since its inception, reached its full membership complement.

He recalled at the moment, the court is composed of only just 18 justices, adding that the18 justices that handle all appeals and deliver justice to the population of over 201 million Nigerians.

He said: “It is reported that the Supreme Court docket is full for about two years. This means that litigants who file cases at the Court will not have a date for the hearing of their cases within two years. It is worthy to note that the date for the hearing of cases does not mean the date for the determination of the cases. As a matter of fact, the cases may be adjourned a couple of times before final adjournment for judgment. After adjournment, it takes another couple of months or years before judgment is finally delivered.

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“The Supreme Court is overburdened. The Constitution grants unlimited jurisdiction on the court to handle all cases and gives litigants the unfettered right in most cases to approach the court on any issue. Some litigants and lawyers have exploited this loophole and filed all manner of undeserving and unmerited cases and interlocutory applications before the court.

“This has bogged down the operations and efficiency of the court and in turn slowed justice administration and delivery in the country. Because of this, germane disputes requiring the serious and expeditious attention of the Court do not receive the same. There are many economic, social and political effects of slow justice delivery in Nigeria as occasioned by the overburdening of the Court. Business entrepreneurs, investors, organisations and governments have their financial or social fate hanged in the balance because of the long duration it takes the Court to render decisions on disputes.

“The situation is not supposed to be so; it is not all appeals that should travel to the Court. The Supreme Court supposed to hand down important decisions on certain cases and the lower courts will follow and apply the decisions in similar cases. It is not for the court to continue attending to similar and not too serious cases the court had earlier dealt with and rendered its opinion in the time past. This is what is obtainable in advanced democracies like the United States and the United Kingdom.

“It is in this vein that this constitutional alteration is proposed to limit appeals to the Supreme Court. All appeals are to reach the court through leave, that is, the court is to determine by way of application whether a particular case deserves its attention. It needs to be stated that litigants still have the right to approach the court but the court will however review their cases and decide whether to hear them. Mechanisms have been set in place within this constitutional proposal to ensure that the process is not abused or genuine cases are not reviewed down.”

Contributing to the Hon. Nkem Abonta from Abia State stated that instead of enacting a law to limit all appeals, it was better to have some cases end at the court of appeals while some terminate at the supreme.

He warned that doing otherwise may mean denying the people their right to getting justice.

Also contributing, Hon. Chudi Momah from Anambra State said that granting the bill may run at variance with the spirit and letter of section 36 of the constitution which guarantee a fair hearing.

On his part, the Deputy Minority Leader, Toby Okechukwu suggested a shared responsibility by way of allowing cases below N5 million to be handled by the Magistrate court while the ones above N5 million should be handled by the High Court.

However, the bill when subjected to voice vote failed to fly as the majority of the members rejected it.

Similarly, the House also rejected a bill seeking to alter the constitution with a view to normalizing the status of Abuja in Relation to the Federal Capital Territory sponsored by Hon. Awaji Inombek D. Abiante.

Abiante had moved the bill for the second reading, noting that according to the provision of the Constitution, Federal Capital Territory (FCT) is located within Abuja whereas it should be the other way round.

He argued that Abuja was smaller in landmass compared to the FCT and as such canvassing that the position of the two should be properly categorized.

But contributing to the bill, Hon. Ahmed Jaha from Borno State spoke against it.

He said that the drafters of the constitution took their time to distinctly notice before arriving at that decision.

When the question was put by the Presiding Officer, Deputy Speaker Ahmed Idris Wase, members rejected it.

In a related development, the gave its nod for the second reading of a bill seeking to amend the constitution to specify the time frame for the conduct of the National Population Census sponsored by Hon. Babajimi Benson from Lagos State.

Leading the debate, Hon. Benson said the Bill specifically sought to amend part 3 of the 1999 constitution to define the time frame for the conduct of census in the country.

According to him, demographic data was very vital in the life of any country, adding that the amendment would help in many ways in the life of Nigeria.

Benson noted that the population census in Nigeria had been marred by improper conduct, recalling that the last census conducted was in 2006.

When subjected to a voice vote, the was overwhelming supported, passed for second reading and referred to the Special Adhoc Committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution.

Vanguard News Nigeria 

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