ADEBISI ONANUGA: Photo Credit: newsnigeria.ng

Few weeks to the start of the 2015/2016 Legal Year, lawyers have set agenda for the judiciary. They argue that it must give fillip to the Buhari administration’s anti-corruption war to make the crusade meaningful. ADEBISI ONANUGA reports.

How will the judiciary fare in the 2015/2016 legal year, which be gins this month? All eyes are on the courts to see how they will deal with corruption cases expected to come before them. It will be the judiciary’s first full legal year under President Muhammadu Buhari. As the last hope of the common man, so much is expected of it.

In the 2014/2015 legal year, there were sundry allegations against the judiciary. Things are expected to be different under the Buhari administration which is waging war against corruption.

At the just concluded 55th Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in Abuja, President Muhammadu Buhari urged lawyers to back his admistration’s fight against corruption and impunity.

Acknowledging the responsibility of lawyers to defend their clients, he urged them to do so without compromising their ethics and the integrity of the legal system – no matter how lucrative the brief may be.

Buhari urged lawyers to see corruption as a gross violation of people’s rights, stressing that pervasive corruption has continued to deny people access to basic needs.

“For the masses of our people, millions still wallow in want and diseases, corruption is a major reason why they cannot go to school; why they cannot be gainfully employed; and why there are few doctors, nurses and drugs in their hospitals and health centres. It is the reason pensioners are not paid and potable water is scarce.

“Viewed in this way, I think we can all fully appreciate the gravity of this oppressive and destructive evil. This should rouse us to fight it with the same zeal and doggedness as we deploy in the defense of fundamental rights.

“I am convinced that the law, lawmakers, lawyers, law courts and the law enforcement agencies all have pivotal responsibilities to discharge, if the change we seek is ever to materialise,” he said.

Buhari stressed that his administration has taken on the challenge of fighting corruption, saying, “the fight against corruption is in reality a struggle for the restoration of law and order. Corruption and impunity become widespread when disrespect for law is allowed to thrive in the society. Disrespect for law also thrives when people get away with all sorts of shady deals and the court system is somehow unable to check them.

“Ability to manipulate and frustrate the legal system is the crowning glory of the corrupt and, as may be expected, this has left many legal practitioners and law courts tainted in an ugly way,“ he said, adding that it should be the role of legal practitioners to help the country back to the path of rectitude.

Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed said incessant delays in the administration of justice remains a problem.

“Lawyers now insist on pursuing cases and interlocutory appeals based on nebulous points of law, regardless of the length of time or the expense involved in doing so to the detriment of their clients.

“Whilst it must be acknowledged that our judiciary is not perfect, we cannot overlook the role of counsel in facilitating the onset of delay”, he said.

Justice Mohammed noted that delay in most instances are either occasioned by the lack of diligent prosecution of a case, antics of counsel such as the use of interlocutory appeals to stall and frustrate a legitimate expectation of justice, or indolence on the part of some Judges.

“My learned colleagues, this state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue. It is one thing to talk the talk, but I am also determined to walk the talk”, he stressed.

“It is for this reason that, as part of our determined effort to ensure that our Judicial Officers are alert to their responsibilities, the National Judicial Council has constituted an Inspection and Monitoring Committee for on-the–spot assessment of Judicial Officers on duty.

“As we continue to fish out and discipline indolent and lazy judges by showing them the way out of the system, we must also acknowledge and praise those judges that are diligent and hardworking.

To this end, the NJC’s Judicial Officers’ Performance Evaluation Committee has also been strengthened to perform its functions,” the CJN said.

He also said that the reforms recently introduced in the judges’ appointment process was yielding results and will, in no distant future, eliminate indolent and unqualified judges from the Bench.

As the nation gets set to commence the legal year 2015/2016 in a couple of weeks, what especially must the country look forward to in terms of justice delivery?

Are there areas that the National Judicial Council (NJC), judges and lawyers must improve on? What are the expectations from the courts with regard to the current bid to rid the country of corruption?

Expectations

Lawyers believe that there is room for improvement. They note that a lot still needs to be done to make the judiciary truly the last hope of the common man.

Former Chairman of the NBA, Ikeja Branch, Monday Ubani; his successor Yinka Farounbi; a member of Ogun State Judiciary Service Commission, Abayomi Omoyinmi, Lagos lawyer, Yemi Omodele and Emeka Nwadioke, among others, said the judiciary must live up to expectations by helping the Federal Government in its anti-corruption crusade.

Ubani lamented that justice delivery system is still, unfortunately, very slow and discouraging to persons who believe in peaceful resolution of disputes through the court system. According to him, the slow process in Justice delivery portends danger to national growth generally.

“Therefore, my expectations will be the enthronement of a judicial structure and mechanism that will facilitate a quicker, less costly and justice-driven administration of justice. Simply put, our justice delivery system should be fast-tracked, transparent and fair to all parties at all times.

“The NJC as a body must intensify its disciplinary measures against erring judges, should try to accede to the States in terms personnel demands and requirements. I do not personally subscribe to the idea of NJC denying the demands of the states on the number of judges that will sufficiently dispense justice efficiently in their states. “Some amendment needs to be done to our laws to ensure we correct what I consider an anomaly.States in the federation should get the number of judges they require to dispense quicker justice.

The former chairman of NBA Ikeja said his expectations from judges are numerous,saying: “They are to remain incorruptible, justice-driven character in handling cases and firm and fair to all parties that appear before them. Above all efficiency, thoroughness and justice should be the watch word of every judge in Nigeria”, he said. For the bar, he said, “lawyers as ministers in the temple of justice must assist the judicial system to attain efficiency with the attendant confidence that does to the entire system and by extension to the entire country.

They must avoid filing frivolous cases and applications during trials; they must stop being a cog in the wheel of justice by the frequent requests for adjournments in order to derail the cause of justice during proceedings. The disciplinary body of NBA must live up to expectation by instilling discipline in the legal profession and ensure that erring lawyers are properly punished for infractions of the ethics of the profession. Contending that corruption, as a heinous crime, has retarded our national growth and put our generation and generations unborn under severe bondage, Ubani suggested that for the country to get rid of corruption and save the future of the nation, the Nigerian judiciary must rise to the occasion and save Nigeria from total collapse.

The judiciary, according to him, will achieve these by ensuring that the philosophy of ridding the country of corruption must be tackled seriously using the judiciary as a deterrence. He said trials of corrupt cases must be handled with every seriousness they deserve and processes ensured that trials and proceedings are not bogged down by technicalities and unnecessary rigmaroles employed by parties and lawyers during trials. Laws must be enacted and implemented judiciously. He stated further that part of the reforms must include dedicating special courts made of incorruptible judges to handle and dispense corrupt cases under new timelines that the new law will prescribe.

I will suggest that corrupt cases should not take more than one year to conclude and appeals should be once after proceedings and both the trials and appeals on them should not take longer than two years to conclude. Any judge found wanting in handling these sensitive case/s should be shown the way out of the system without delay”, he contended, adding that abolition of long hand in proceedings, financial autonomy and provision of basic facilities and employment of honest, dedicated and capable judges we will be on the wayto having an efficient judiciary that all of us shall be proud of”.

Omoyinmi on the other hand said he expects that the delivery of justice should be prompt, absolute and just. Emphasising that justice delayed is justice denied, he said there should be improvement in dispensation of cases in our justice system so that quick dispensation of justice can be achieved even if it means appointing more judicial officers to adjudicate in order to cope with increase of cases in our courts. Omoyinmi expects lawyers in particular to improve in making sure that matters in court are speedily dispense with professionaly. The courts must however brace up to its responsibility by making sure that cases of corruption are adjudicated upon without fear or favour in order to support the country in its quest to rid country of corruption.

Omodele said the new legal year should bring about breakthrough in Nigeria on the basis that many corruption cases are going to be prosecuted by the government of the day. In views of this, “I state that it is a year where judges should be bold and fearless in delivery of justice. They should do their work without fear or favour to anybody whatsoever”, he stressed.

Omodele’s expectation is that lawyers should assist the bench in quick dispensation of justice saying, “filing of frivolous applications should be jettisoned by counsels”. His expectation is also that the government of the day, both at the federal and state levels, should ensure that the condition of service of the judicial workers are well taken care of to avoid incessant strikes in the sector. I also expect a situation where appointments of lawyers to the bench are done without any influence from any quarter whatsoever”. He said that the proposal to establish a special court to try corrupt and fraud related cases could be done by adopting Lagos State method of having corrupt and other related division rather than waiting till the time the constitution is amended. These will fast track those cases. This, according to him, was because there is likelihood that some members of the National Assembly(NASS) may frustrate the amendment. “The constitution accommodates this style of Lagos State and I suggest same for the Federal Government and other states of the federation . He added that economic and other related offences court is hereby suggested to commence without delay. Nwadioke remarked that it was deeply frustrating that the challenges reeled out during the last legal year are still staring us in the face. “ It is however expected that a diligent implementation of the new Administration of Criminal Justice Act will have a salutary effect on criminal justice administration especially in aiding speedy dispensation of criminal justice and decongesting of the prisons”.

Nwadioke said there must be a virulent advocacy for increased funding of the judiciary. This will redress many of the gaps in the justice sector, not least the infrastructural decay that feeds delayed justice among other ills. In return, the judiciary must be seen to be at the forefront of the fight to combat corruption and impunity by curbing influence peddling within and outside its ranks. Judicial appointments must be done transparently to ensure that only the best in character and learning superintend our temples of justice. Law thrives on certainty. Conflicting judgments negate this hallowed aphorism.

Nwadioke expects that lawyers should give the judiciary every assistance and cooperation to ensure speedy dispensation of justice, including but not limited to shunning frivolous applications that impede the wheel of justice.

“The Nigerian Bar Association deserves our commendation and gratitude for giving the Bar a people’s constitution. Even for some of us who have been ardent critics of Bar governance in recent years, the Alegeh Administration has written its name in gold for this singular milestone. However, there is no substitute for a diligent implementation of the new constitution. The welfare of lawyers must continue to be addressed frontally to shore up professionalism”, he added.

Farounbi said the new legal year comes with great expectations.

He said:“This is understandable as it is like moving from a December of an old year to a January of a new year.

“I am generally looking forward to a Bench that will hold tightly to the oath of office taken by dispensing justice without fear or favour to all manners of people, and a Bar that will guide our Judges and Justices to arrive atfair decisions that will be beneficial to the generality of Nigerians.”

On corruption, he said: “The country is presently swimming in the cool water of corruption, the Bar and Bench should play the greatest role in assisting this new government in making the water to be hot with the view to eradicating the menace so as to avoid the prediction of Mr. President that: ‘If we do not kill corruption, corruption will kill us’.

“I equally urge the NJC to beam its searchlight more on our Judges and Justices. No doubt, some of our Judicial officers are still very corrupt, some are lazy and some are not too knowledgeable in law and are not willing to develop themselves. Honestly, some of these Judicial officers have no business in the system.

“These individuals should be identified and either shown the way out of the system or made to fall in line with the demands of the 21st century Justice System.”

On disciplining errring lawyers, Farounbi said: “I equally urge the NBA to sharpen the teeth of the Disciplinary Committee of the association with a view to identifying the bad eggs in the profession for eviction. High moral standard and ethics that are previously taken for granted are now lacking among most of our colleagues.

“Lawyers now put on jeans with brown shoes, and blazers to attend our Courts. In fact, some no longer remember the injunction of the sage, Hon. Justice Oputa that a lawyer must, at least, have a ‘serviceable suit’.

“What about the seniors and the not too seniors in the profession who are corruption pipes to ferry bribe to some of our Judges and Justices. We will do good to fish them out and make them face the consequences.

“They are a disgrace to the profession and great clog in the wheel of the development of our legal system. The emanating judgments from their actions are minuses to the system rather than the other way round. To whom much is expected, much should equally be given.

“Our government should place fundamental importance on the Judiciary and the Justice System generally.

“If we expect our Judges and Justices to, like Caesar’s wife, live above board, then we should pay greater attention to their welfare, security and training.

“Nigeria is more than overdue for electronic recording of our proceedings. It is highly inconsiderate to expect our Judges and Justices to take down proceedings in long hands for five, six hours every day for five days in a week. In fact, this must be stopped pronto.

“All these points and more attended to, we will have a legal system we will all be proud of. I wish Nigeria and Nigerians a wonderful Legal Year.”

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