Group of activists, under the umbrella of United Action for Change, have called on the National Judicial Council to design its own internal mechanism for probing and disciplining erring judges rather than waiting for lawyers to write petitions and come forward to defend such petitions.
The group, at a roundtable on Saturday in Lagos, said the accusatorial system where erring judges were expected to be disciplined based on petitions from lawyers and litigants, was putting such petitioners at the risk of being victimised.
Leading discussion in this direction was a Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika, who shared his personal experience, when he went to defend a petition written against a judge by a litigant, only for it to be used against him later.
“That accusatorial system is a very dangerous system to operate, because the moment you are identified as a lawyer who wrote a petition, you are marked out,” Olumide-Fusika declared.
Apart from the risk of being victimised, he said the accusatorial system also put the petitioner under undue pressure from various quarters, from people who would begin to persuade him to withdraw the petition and not allow himself to be seen as the one who sent a judge out of his or her job.
According to him, rather than wait for lawyers and litigants to write petitions against judicial officers and lawyers, both the NJC and the NBA could as well pay attention to the Law Reports where they could deduce infractions or unethical practices in some of the reported judgments.
He said, “A system that does not have a self-appraisal measure is not good for us. All we say is that either a lawyer or a litigant should bring a petition whereas if you look at the Law Reports, both judges and lawyers, there’s a way you will know that this person is not competent.”
He said many lawyers had not paid attention to the portion of the Constitution which provides that a judge must deliver judgment within three months after hearing a case, failure of which the judge should personally report him/herself to the NJC.
“Why should a judge, after completing proceedings in a case, take two years before delivering the judgment? You don’t need anybody to file any petition. As a matter of the law, the provision of the Constitution, which most people don’t pay attention to, is that the Constitution says you should deliver judgment within three months but sometimes you are not able to deliver judgment for one reason or the other; some of these reasons may be genuine or your own man-made excuses. If you are unable to deliver judgment within three months, the Constitution did not say don’t deliver; what it says is that you can deliver the judgment, but report yourself to the NJC, not that somebody will report you. Report yourself that I am supposed to deliver this judgment, but I failed to deliver it and these are my reasons for failing,” he said.
A former Chairman of the Ikeja branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Dave Ajetunmobi, said all was not well with the judiciary as he said many judicial officers and lawyers were guilty of unethical conducts, ranging for judges who sit late to those having affairs with litigants and those who take bribes.
“I know Supreme Court judges who are consultants; they are consultants in the derogatory sense. They will call a lawyer who has a case before them and say, ‘This your brief is good, deposit N250m and you will win.’ What is the essence of justice? This is another issue that we must deal with.”
Ajefunmobi advocated better remuneration and welfare package for judicial management staff, who he said were not well paid.
A United Kingdom-based Nigerian lawyer, Mr. Olufemi Okenla, argued that the problem of incompetence among judges stemmed from lack of specialisation.
“I have been practising in England and I can only practise in three areas of the law. You cannot bring Shipping Law to me and I’d say I know it. I will only practise criminal, commercial and immigration laws, that’s where I am specialised. I cannot take on everything. So, if I am a lawyer and I become a judge in the Immigration division, I am likely to know the rules better. But if I’m asked to decide on banking law, I’d have to go and research, and there will be delay.”
The convener of the roundtable, Dr. Muiz Banire (SAN), said UAC shall be passing the resolution of the roundtable across to the relevant authorities, which includes a recommendation, that the appointment of the Chief Justice of Nigeria should not be limited to Justices of the Supreme Court.