Lawyers have stressed that the implementation of bold reforms introduced by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, expeditious determination of corruption-related cases and training of judges involved in corruption trial and election matters should be the focus of the judiciary in 2018.
Leading the call for a focused judiciary in 2018, a professor of public law and president of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies (CSLS), Yemi Akinseye-George (SAN), said there is need to build the capacity of judges by conducting refresher courses.
He said those involved in election cases should be exposed to special courses in collaboration with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and international development partners in preparation for election cases since the country is about to enter another election season.
“The provisions of the electoral law and recent amendments including judicial interpretations of the statutory laws and INEC guidelines should be widely disseminated,” he said.
He added that while the judiciary is at this, high profile corruption cases should be prioritized and determined one way or the other. “There is need to fast-track the cases of politically exposed persons so they can know their fate before the elections. Cases which cannot be proved should be plea bargained and if there are unexplained assets beyond the legitimate means of the politically exposed defendants, they should be forfeited.
“The courts so designated (for corruption cases) should hit the ground running; the judges should be trained; new practice directions should be issued to guide the courts; civil society organisations should be allowed to monitor proceedings in the specialised courts. Only judges who have track records of efficiency and ability to use ICT should be deployed to the courts.
“In appointing new judges, the ability to use ICT effectively should rank as one of the top prerequisites. Judges should also be rewarded with extra allowances when deployed to the specialised courts. Also, the additional N30 billion promised the judiciary under the 2017 budget should be released. But it must be well-managed in order to improve the working conditions and overall performance of the judiciary,” he said.
Prof. Akinseye-George added that CCTV cameras should be introduced in all the courts which, he said, would make it unnecessary to start the trial of cases afresh when a new judge takes over following retirement, death, transfer or promotion of a judge previously trying a case.
“The new judge can replay and watch the recorded proceedings. This will require the establishment by every court of a strong ICT support unit or help desk which can train and provide technical support to the judges and registrars in the use of ICT. It is not possible for courts to operate efficiently in this modern world without proper use of ICT.
“Also, judges should introduce case management systems; they should avoid too many extra-judicial functions which can unduly cause delay of justice. Where they are sure they would not sit, advance notice should be issued to lawyers who have cases before them so they would not waste resources coming to the court only to be told that the court is not sitting.”
He also said that the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) must be proactive in protecting hard working judges from intimidation by defence lawyers and their politically exposed clients, while senior lawyers who use their weight to undermine the judicial process should be sanctioned. “A situation in which lawyers and their heavyweight clients intimidate judges by writing frivolous petitions must be frowned upon and punished in 2018.”
To this effect, Barrister E.M.D Umukoro suggested that the judiciary must begin to tinker with the idea of limiting time within which a matter should last in court and court must refuse unjustifiable application for adjournments.
“Courts should begin to sit exactly 9am and if the court is not sitting the litigants must be apologized to and adequately informed. All matters must not be lumped from 9-4pm. The judiciary should consider giving time such as 9-10 for some cases, other set of cases 12-1 while others could be fixed for 2-4pm.
“Any litigant or their counsel who tries to delay a case repeatedly must be fined or ordered to pay cost and failure to pay the cost should be a professional misconduct,” he said.
Sharing a similar view, human rights activist Festus Keyamo (SAN), said “the focus of the judiciary should be to implement the bold reforms that have been introduced by the CJN in respect of quick dispensation of justice, especially as it concerns corruption-related cases.”
He said the judges and the judiciary entirely should also take the warning of the CJN seriously as it relates to election-related matters and corruption-related cases because these cases “give the judiciary a bad name more than other matters.”
Several other lawyers Daily Trust spoke to also suggest that speedy determination of cases from the trial courts to the apex court should be the focus of the judiciary this year even as it strengthens its independence.
The Chairman of NBA Bwari Chapter, Barrister Mohammed Tsav, said there is also need to expand the number of courts, adding that “the judges right now are overwhelmed with cases in their courts. More judges should be employed so that the workload could be spread out.
“The Court of Appeal should sustain the speed at which appeals in criminal matters are decided. The Supreme Court should sustain its decision which upheld the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) ban on stay of proceedings.”
Another Abuja-based lawyer, Ololade Shonibare said in focusing on speedy and expeditious trials, judges and courts should be empowered to refer certain cases to arbitration in order to discourage and reduce the number of cases for trial in courts.
“Arbitration should be publicised and made affordable, and its scope should be broadened to accommodate more issues of law,” she added.
It was also suggested that the implementation of non-custodial measures or alternatives to imprisonment as provided for under the ACJA should be fully activated in 2018 and judges should be trained on several of the new provisions by the act.
To address cases of congestion at the Supreme Court, lawyers also suggest that the apex court should introduce guidelines on the award of realistic but punitive costs to discourage abuse of its processes and waste of precious judicial time, adding that any unmeritorious interlocutory appeals taken to the apex court without justification should be met with punitive costs.