Judges-wig

LITIGANTS with cases at the Federal High Court in Lagos have to wait as the Chief Judge, Justice Ibrahim Auta, has approved the transfer of some judges to other divisions.

Among those leaving the Lagos Division are Justice Okon Abang, Justice Mohammed Yunusa, Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke and Justice Musa Kurya.

Justice Abang, who barred the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) from arresting Senator Buruji Kashamu for illicit drug dealing allegations, was transferred to Abuja.

His pending cases are: Former Presidential Adviser Kingsley Kuku Vs. Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Honeywell Group Vs. Ecobank Plc.

Justice Yunusa, who granted the order restraining anti-graft agencies from arresting former Aviation Minister Princess Stella Oduah, was transfered to Enugu State.

Justice Aneke was transfered to Benue, while Justice Kurya to Plateau.

Justice Ibrahim Buba, expected to be moved to the North, will remain in Lagos.

Among cases before Justice Buba is: Former Director-General of Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Patrick Akpobolokemi, on trial for fraud.

With the transfers, cases before the judges would begin afresh (de novo).

It was learnt that some litigants were unhappy that their cases would be further delayed.

A human rights group, Access to Justice (A2Justice) decried the transfers, saying such “arbitrary and routine” transfers of judges affect the speedy dispensation of justice.

A2J lamented that the transfer of judges, who have commenced but not completed trials, could have drastic and traumatising effects on litigants and escalate the cost of litigation.

“Such transfers of judges often times occur after the case has spent years on the docket of the court of the transferred judge,” it said.

According to A2J, to re-start cases that have spent years on a cause-list afresh is painful, agonising and hard on litigants.

“This would entail recalling witnesses and re-tendering evidence. Some of the cases affected may also be fundamental rights cases, where issues of constitutional rights – including liberty or movement – may also be in question.

“These administrative transfers force litigants to outspend themselves to resolve disputes or find remedies, in view of additional expenses involved in re-litigating a matter.

“Transfers take their toll on, and burden witnesses too, some of whom may be unable, on health or other grounds, to return to court to give evidence again.

“When witnesses are unable to reappear to give evidence and a case is thereby prejudiced, this perpetuates, replicates and amplifies negative public impressions about our court system and its ability to uphold the rule of law and dispense justice freely and efficiently.

“No person affected by these transfers would have a positive impression of the court or how the courts take their responsibility to dispense justice,” A2J said.

The group urged the National Judicial Council (NJC) to “adopt and issue a clear, enforceable policy that prevents any judge from being transferred or relocated from his or her court or division without an impact assessment of the effect of such transfers on cases.”

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