The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta has blamed lawyers for the recent conflicting judgments that emanated from the court. AMEH EJEKWONYILO reports
In what seemed like buck passing, Justice Auta has appealed to the National President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), to sanction lawyers who file the same cases with the same parties before different judges of courts of equal jurisdiction in a bid to get favourable decisions from the court.
The Chief Judge who spoke at the opening ceremony of the 2016/2017 legal year of the court, lamented the ignoble attitude of some legal practitioners who jump from one court to the other in the event that a suit does not go their way, thereby embarrassing the court with conflicting verdicts.
He said: “the attitude of some lawyers who engage in ‘forum shopping’ in a bid to get favourable rulings or judgments, is totally unacceptable. It has become worrisome and must be curtailed by the NBA.”
In a related development, Justice Auta noted at the opening ceremony of this year’s annual Federal High Court Judges’ conference in Abuja last Tuesday, that the conference could not have come at a more auspicious time in view of the recent happenings in the court that tend to drag its name in the mud.
“This year’s Judges Conference could not have come at a better time in view of the recent developments in our court and the need to address the issues raised by either misrepresentation or misinterpretation.
“The object of this conference, therefore, is to critically discuss these and other issues so that we can go ahead with our primary responsibilities untainted.”
Justice Auta noted that it had been the practice of the court since its inception for judges of the court to meet and annually to appraise the activities of the previous year with a view to finding solutions to identified problems.
“In the course of finding solutions to identified problems, Honourable Judges freely correct and apportion blame to their erring Brother Judges before they finally resolve to improve on their performance in the previous year,” he said.
The CJ expressed delight over the appointment of thirty new judges to the court’s Bench after what he termed a “rigorous screening exercise”, saying “with the appointment and the recent official opening of the Bernin-Kebbi Judicial Division, the court now has divisions in all the states of Nigeria with 80 serving Honourable Judges.”
Commenting on the issue of lawyers’ involvement in the unprofessional conduct of forum shopping, President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. A.B. Mahmoud (SAN) assured the Justice Auta of the Bar’s determination to discipline erring members. The new NBA President lauded the court for its industry in disposing of over 90 per cent of cases in its docket in the previous Legal Year, adding that there is still room for improvement in some areas of the court.
“It has been an eventful year especially for the Federal High Court. Over 16, 000 cases were filed and they were able to dispose of 13, 000 which I think is very good; though there are still areas of improvement.
“There has been a lot of expansion of the court itself; the number of judges has increased and there has been other developments such as the ICT for the court. But there are also many challenges which we have expressed concern about. The situation of the court in Lagos is a source of concern. We have asked the administration of the Federal High Court to do something about it; because lawyers and judges are working under very unhealthy conditions; in very small courtrooms. So, we are hoping that there will be improvement in that.
“We have raised issues of concern about conflicting decisions of the court, and the CJ has assured us that they would do their own part while the Nigerian Bar Association would do its own part, our members who are found to be complicit in this will be dealt with by the Bar association according to its rules.
“By and large, the legal year has witnessed some successes and we will try and work on areas of challenges that we have observed. “We will do something about ‘forum shopping.’ What we expect from the court is to give us a record of such counsel that are involved in this sort of practice and the Bar association will initiate disciplinary action on all such cases that will bring such lawyers to book,” Mahmoud declared.