The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, has directed all Heads of Courts in Nigeria to clampdown on both Prosecution and Defence Counsel who indulge in delay tactics to stall criminal trials.
The CJN said this had become necessary, as it was no more business as usual given the amount of, and length of time spent on high profile corruption and financial cases before the courts.
He gave the directive on Monday at a special court session of the Supreme Court held to mark the opening of the 2017/2018 legal year.
According to him, “inexplicable and seemingly intractable delays”, has been the bane of criminal justice system in the country, even as he further directed all Heads of Courts in the country to compile and forward to the National Judicial Council (NJC) a comprehensive lists of all corruption and financial crime cases pending in their various courts.
While lamenting that such delays, “result in the unfortunate disruption of due process”, Justice Onnoghen ordered all the Heads of Courts to designate at least one court in their various jurisdictions as Special Courts, solely for the purpose of hearing and speedily determining corruption and financial crime cases.
Where such cases proceeded on appeal, he noted, to either the Appeal or Supreme Court, special dates on each week should be fixed, solely for hearing and determining such appeals, adding, that the National Judicial Council, NJC, would at its next meeting, constitute an Anti-Corruption Cases Trial Monitoring Committee that will continually monitor the progress of high-profile criminal cases.
“This committee would be saddled with, among other things, the responsibility of ensuring that both Trial and Appellate Courts handling corruption and financial crime cases key into and abide by our renewed efforts at ridding our Country of the canker worm”, he stated.
He encouraged Heads of Courts to report cases of unnecessary delays to the NJC, which would in turn, transmit them to the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC), in the case of SANs, and the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC), in the case of other legal practitioners.
“We must not lose sight of the indispensable role of the judiciary in the fight against corruption. Corruption continues to place the judiciary in the eye of the storm, but, we cannot allow that to deter us or weaken our resolve.
“It is regrettable that the image of the Judiciary has been tarnished by the notion that the Nigerian Judiciary is bedeviled by corrupt elements, hence the need for an image building parade.
“We must accept that acts of misconduct of a few rub off on the rest of the judiciary and create the impression that all judicial officers have their hands soiled with the proceeds of corruption.
“Let me be clear here; it is not going to be business as usual for the few unscrupulous elements in our midst. I am determined to redeem the unfairly battered image of the judiciary.
“Any Judicial Officer found wanting would be dealt with decisively, and shown the way out swiftly. It is therefore for this reason that the independence of the judiciary must be entrenched if we are to hold the trust and confidence of the citizens of Nigeria.
“We, in the judiciary are fully aware and in fact worried by concerns expressed by members of the public on the very slow speed with which corruption cases in particular are being heard or determined by our Courts.
“Although the Administration of Criminal Justice Act contains many commendable provisions aimed at speeding up the process of criminal prosecution generally, it is clear that we still need to employ more strategies to support and strengthen this law in fast tracking the criminal justice system”, the CJN added.
The CJN also enjoined members of the public not to offer bribes to judicial officers, warning that anyone caught in such acts would be met with the full weight of the law
“I encourage members of the public to cut off the supply side of corruption by stopping the offering of bribes to judicial officers. The full weight of the law will be visited on all those who are caught in this nefarious activity that is capable of eroding integrity and confidence in the judiciary.
“Finally on this issue, I wish to appeal to litigants, advocates and the public to refrain from making unsubstantiated and malicious allegations/complaints against judicial officers.
“Unsubstantiated and unfair complaints against judicial officers are a threat to justice and judicial independence as much as the act of corruption itself because of the atmosphere of intimidation, fear and erosion of confidence it may engender.
“Some judicial officers may fear to make decisions against certain litigants or lawyers for fear of enlisting malicious complaints. Aggrieved parties should only make complaints where judicial officers have violated the Judicial Code of Conduct or abused their exalted office.
“We are under no illusion that the fight against corruption would be an easy one, as we are already aware that when you fight corruption, corruption fights back; but we are determined to win it. We require all hands to be on deck to fight this monster”.
Speaking on the past legal year which he described as a turbulent one for the Judiciary, the CJN revealed that the Supreme Court considered a total number of 1,362 matters comprising motions, appeals and judgements.
“Under motions, we heard 82 political, 675 civil and 208 criminal motions, totalling 965; the Court also considered a total number of 394 appeals comprising 96 political, 174 civil, and 124 criminal. In total, 243 Judgments were delivered in the 2016/2017 legal year.
“This is by all means an impressive report considering the persistent and increasing volume of cases that continue to come before this Court. I attribute this impressive performance to the hard work of judicial officers, support staff and the reforms we are implementing to improve justice delivery.
“I share the view that the Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria are the most hard working Supreme Court Justices in the world”, the CJN stated.
He also frowned against disobedience of court orders, noting, that “Disobedience of or non-compliance with judicial orders is a recipe for breakdown of law and order. Such developments are at variance with the principles and tenets of the rule of law in a democratic government”.
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