The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, on Monday, declared that judges, who in the recent past in the country, gave conflicting judgments from courts of concurrent jurisdiction, were being investigated based on petitions against them.
Mohammed advised all judicial officers to ensure that they expedited the determination of all cases, especially criminal cases, by utilising the Administration of Criminal Justice Act and the 2013 Practice Directions on Serious Crimes, enacted to address delays in cases pertaining to serious crimes.
The CJN said these in Abuja during the special session of the Supreme Court to mark the commencement of the 2016/2017 Legal Year and the inauguration of 22 new Senior Advocates of Nigeria.
Mohammed, who promised that appropriate actions would be taken against errant judges who gave conflicting judgments, added that lawyers, who wrote petitions against judges and other judicial officers directly to the President, without going through the National Judicial Council, would be punished by the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee.
According to him, the constitution has clearly placed the power to exercise discretionary control over judicial officers in the NJC.
It can be recalled that conflicting judgments were given by a Federal High Court in Abuja and another Federal High Court in Port Harcourt over the crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party between the Ahmed Makarfi and Alli Modu Sherrif’s factions.
Another conflicting judgment was given in the Abia State governorship tussle between Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and another PDP contender, Dr. Uche Ogah.
The CJN stated that in line with the provisions of the constitution, the Judicial Discipline Regulations 2014 comprehensively sets out the procedure for making a complaint, disallowing interference from other arms of government.
He said, “Let me state before the court starts that cases of courts of coordinate jurisdiction, giving conflicting judgments, will be addressed. All the judges involved are being investigated and actions will be taken against them accordingly.
“It is therefore of great concern and wonder of the growing trend of our lawyers, litigants and even members of the public routing complaints against judicial officers to the Office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“I am most dismayed that legal practitioners, who ought to better appreciate the need for the independence of their primary constituency, will engage in this misguided practice.
“This dangerous new trend has borne itself out in various complaints ranging from disparaging remarks against judges of our superior courts, to unprecedented, unwarranted and unfortunate personal attacks on judicial officers.
“I must admit that these cases were particularly distasteful and have been marked for action against the errant counsel by the LPDC.”
While emphasising that the appointment of persons to the office of the CJN had a clear procedure that must be followed, Mohammed warned against politicising the office.
The CJN also expressed disappointment with the perennial issue of delays in the administration of justice in the country.
He said, “Although new laws and practice directions have been enacted with the aim of speeding up the administration of justice, incessant delays remain and are aggravated by challenges from those seemingly bent on continuing to live in the doldrums of the past.
“Sadly, certain members of the Bar are conspicuous in utilising unethical, frivolous applications and appeals, multiplicity of actions in courts of coordinate jurisdiction and other acts of calumny to frustrate the speedy dispensation of justice. These abuses of court process not only occasion delays, but also diminish the standing of the justice system and the legal profession in the eyes of Nigerians.
“Persistent delays result in a ripple effect that deliberately frustrates due process. Indeed, the opportunity cost of listing a matter that is a manifest waste of the court’s time could delay the hearing of other matters, which may involve the liberty of a citizen or protection of another from harm.”
Mohammed recalled that in the wake of the myriad of political appeals after the 2015 elections, he and other judges sat till unusually late hours, sometimes up to 11pm in order to conclude the appeals, because some of them had potentially far-reaching effects on the lives of citizens.
He said, ‘‘I must therefore place on record that the Justices of the Supreme Court of Nigeria are the most hardworking Supreme Court justices in the world and must receive due ovation for the sacrifices made and deprivations endured in the performance of our onerous duties, in the interest of Justice and our dear nation.”
Earlier, Chief Onomigbo Okpoko (SAN), who spoke on behalf of the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, described as embarrassing the show of shame brought about by courts of coordinate jurisdiction assuming jurisdiction to hear the same dispute between parties.
He called on the regulatory authorities to step in immediate to do the damage control so as to save the justice system from further ridicule.
Okpoko said, “Conflicting judgments go to the very root of the judicial system. If the established principle that trial courts have no power to set aside their own judgment except in well-established circumstances, the principle that courts of coordinate jurisdiction cannot overrule themselves or set aside each other’s judgments and that the Court of Appeal itself cannot over rule itself are all in one place.
“One wonders how come that conflicting judgments still rear their heads. The NJC has to let Nigerians know what went wrong and what measures have been taken to prevent a reoccurrence.”
The President of Nigerian Bar Association, Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), reiterated that the NBA, under his watch, would fight corruption in the judiciary.
“Under my watch, we shall make the legal profession unattractive for corrupt lawyers. We will ensure that the NBA does not become a sanctuary of miscreant lawyers,” he stated.
Mahmoud commended the innovations by the CJN in the judiciary, adding that the NBA would soon convey a high-level summit to discuss important issues affecting the judiciary as well as proffer solutions.