PRIVATE legal practitioners, including senior law lecturers, are now on the shortlist of the National Judicial Council (NJC) for appointment as judges.
Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, disclosed this on Sunday, at the annual general conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), in Abuja.
He also said the era of justices of the Court of Appeal alone progressing to the Supreme Court was over.
This development meant that private legal practitioners and law teachers could be appointed straight onto the apex court bench.
Speaking on the reform ongoing in the sector, he said “there have been many calls from various quarters for the reform of the judiciary.
“I wish to state that reforms in the Nigerian judiciary are already ongoing with the implementation of the new Revised NJC Guidelines and Procedural Rules for the Appointment of Judicial Officers of all Superior Courts of Record in Nigeria 2014, put in place by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
“The old guidelines and rules, which saw only Justices of the Court of Appeal as of right making it to the Supreme Court, have been swept away to give any qualified legal practitioner the opportunity of making it not only to the High Courts – federal and state, the National Industrial Court, Sharia Courts of Appeal and Customary Courts of Appeal, but also the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court and even to the posts of heads of federal and states superior courts, including the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
“That is why the list of 50 candidates now awaiting interview at the NJC to vie for 25 vacancies in the Federal High Court includes prominent legal practitioners, such as a renowned Dean of Law of one of the Nigerian universities.
“This will ensure that only qualified and competent members of the Bar find their way to the Bench. That is why I call on the leadership of the Bar to ensure the sensitisation of the Bar, because once that has been successfully accomplished, the sensitisation of the Bench, which drinks from such a rich fountain of the Bar, shall be reassured.
“It is for this reason that, as part of our determined effort to ensure that our judicial officers are alert to their responsibilities, the NJC 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.
“Finally, it would not be an exaggeration if one attributes the corporate existence of Nigeria, in part, to the vibrancy and steadfastness of the legal profession.
“The NBA has led the vanguard of political development by standing on the side of the rule of law on issues that have concerned the nation’s unity and integrity.
“I make bold to say that it is this rule of law that guarantees peace, security, unity and good governance.”