The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen has warned against the continued practice of discussions of matters that are subjudice in the media.
The CJN was reacting to comments in the media on the issues concerning the Anambra State Central Senatorial District dispute.
A statement by the Senior Special Assistant (Media) to CJN, Awassam Bassey reminded that “It is Contempt of Court for anyone to discuss any matter pending in any Court of Law in the country. The punishment for Contempt may include a term of imprisonment”.
According to the CJN, the language used in such discourse to describe the judgments of the Courts is not only ungentlemanly, degrading and contemptuous, but amounts to uncharitable insults which should not be encouraged in any decent democracy.
“It is in the light of the above that the CJN continues to encourage parties and the general public to use only lawful means in the pursuit of remedies for their real and imagined grievances”, the statement noted.
The spokesman to the CJN reiterated the CJN’s appeal to litigants, advocates and the public to refrain from making unsubstantiated and malicious allegations and complaints against Judicial Officers, and reminded Judges to consider invoking their inherent power of contempt where there are clear violations or infractions in respect of matters that are subjudice.
“The CJN, once again, assures Nigerians that the Judiciary of this great nation remains committed in the discharge of its responsibilities in line with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria without fear or favour; affection or ill-will”, the statement noted.
The CJN the referried the public to the case of Attorney-General vs Times Newspapers Ltd (1973) 3 All ER 54 at 65 (1973) 3 WLR 298, where Lord Reid opined thus:
“I think that anything in the nature of prejudgment of a case or of specific issues in it is objectionable not only because of its possible effect on that particular case but also because of its side effects which may be far-reaching.
“Responsible ‘mass media’ will do their best to be fair, but there will also be ill-informed, slapdash or prejudiced attempts to influence the public. If people are led to think that it is easy to find the truth, disrespect for the processes of the law could follow and, if mass media are allowed to judge, unpopular people and unpopular causes will fare very badly.
“Most cases of prejudging of issues fall within the existing authorities on contempt. I do not think that the freedom of the press would suffer, and I think that the law would be clearer and easier to apply in practice if it is made a general rule that it is not permissible to prejudge issues in pending cases.”
Justice Onnoghen noted that the Rule of Law remains the solution to the country’s numerous problems.