An Ignorant Judge is a Calamity for the Innocent – Justice Ogunwumiju


Continuation of the highlights of what Judges Must Do to Change the Negative Perception of the Judiciary which was culled from the key note address by Honourable Justice Helen Morenkeji Ogunwumiju.

 ‘Be above Board’

Justice Ogunwumiju urged judges to take firm control of their courts and constantly monitor staff to ensure that there are no corrupt activities.

“Most of us are too trusting of our staff. It is imperative that the judge is not detached because of the likelihood of money being collected in the name of the judge. The ability to walk tall is priceless.

“Judicial officers in this regard are expected to live above board and be free from undue political or monetary interference, remaining an unbiased arbiter.

“It takes four parties to have a successful prosecution – the complainant, the prosecution, the defence and the judge.

“As the judicial officer, we are to coordinate the other three. We have to be on top our game,” Justice Ogunwumiju said.

The jurist said judges must “muster the courage and the will” to utilize the ACJA to dispense justice as quickly as possible.

Judges, she said, should not be afraid of being overruled on appeal for standing firm.

“My brothers and sisters don’t be threatened by lawyers saying they are going on appeal. Do what you think is right.

“If they don’t go on appeal, how will they know that you are busy sitting till 6 pm and burning the midnight oil writing judgments?” she said,

Justice Ogunwumiju urged judges to be very acquainted with the ACJA and other laws such as the Evidence Act, as according to her, “an ignorant judge is a calamity for the innocent”.

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“We must take back control of our courts. We are dominus litis (master of a suit) in our courtroom. I have never been able to understand how any court would allow counsel representing a client get the opportunity to dictate the tune in the courtroom.

“The law has given the judge the power to dictate the tune for lawyers and litigants to dance to. The judiciary cannot afford to allow itself to become the weakest link in the enforcement of our laws because the wheels of justice grind so slowly.

“It is my ardent hope that all chief judges will follow this laudable example and enact similar Practice Directions in their various jurisdictions,” she said.

A legal expert, Austin Emumejakpor, who gave an overview of the FCT ACJA Practice Directions, noted that Order 14 of the Practice Direction likens a judge to a referee.

The judge, he said, must take firm control of his court from the onset to set the tone of the trial.

“Presiding judges should make counsel aware they are in charge of their courts. Where appropriate, remind counsel of their duty,” he said.

Emumejakpor urged judges to use their powers to award costs so as to reduce delays and discourage frivolous applications for adjournments.

CJ’s warning on remand order

FCT High Court Chief Judge, Justice Ishaq Bello, said judges must not indulge prosecuting agencies who detain suspects while fishing for evidence.

Before granting requests for extension of remand orders, there must be reasonable justification for the extension, he said.

“I have observed that remand orders are just being granted as a matter of course when the provision is express. I think we should be more proactive, particularly when there is a second request.

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“We must be able to find reasons; legitimate grounds as to why the extension of the remand order earlier granted should be made. This will check the excesses of the remanding authority,” he said.

The CJ said ‘de-clogging panels’ would be set up to review dormant criminal cases to be struck out.

“Over six months ago, I sent out a circular to all the prosecuting agencies, that where they are aware of cases that cannot be prosecuted, they should compile and have them struck out. None of them responded.

“As soon as we’re able to set up this panel, we’re going to strike out these cases. Judicial tolerance is being overstretched.

“Because we keep on bending backwards on the ground that these are cases of armed robbery, murder, the investigating authorities tend to over-capitalize on that and keep seeking adjournments without completing investigations. Cases tend to stay in court unattended.

“By the time we have this panel, I assure you, we’re going to throw out these cases, whether they’re armed robbery or murder cases.

“If they choose to re-arrest, we’ll give them time-line to complete the prosecution, because we must rescue the integrity of the judiciary and the justice system. This we want to do,” he said.

Multi-dimensional Challenges

A PACAC member Prof Femi Odekunle, who chaired the event, said as pervasive and institutionalized as corruption has become, and as damaging as it is to the country’s economic and social development, it can only be tackled within the bounds of rules, due process and fair hearing.

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Noting the fact that delayed justice means denied justice, Prof Odekunle said there tends to be a dominance of ‘technical’ justice over and above real justice.

“Wrongly, the blame for these deficits is put on the judiciary: compromised, just lazy or incompetent.

“Yet, the reality of the problem is not one-dimensional. Rather, it is multi-dimensional.

“For instance, judges cannot be blamed for the following: archaic rules/regulations that literally ‘tie’ the hands of judges and give room for the God-forsaken shenanigans of defence lawyers; incompetent prosecutors further disabled by under-funding and under-staffing or inadequate logistics, and investigators who by default (and sometime by design) ignore to properly ‘service’ the ingredients to prove an offence,” he said.

He said contrary to the perception “in certain quarters”, PACAC “is not against the judiciary, the legal profession or any set of judges or lawyers”.

“Yes, PACAC is furious against a few judges, and a few lawyers who are sabotaging the anti-corruption fight – because the few not only frustrate the fight, they also damage the diligent and honest work of the so many good and hardworking judges of our judiciary.

“Perhaps, needless to say, the conception and the enactment of ACJA 2015 is to mitigate the untoward consequences of the system I earlier highlighted.

“I must reiterate that any indication of animus between PACAC and the judiciary is at the most charitable a ‘myth’ and at worst a perception being propagated by the enemies of the fight against corruption.

“If you needed any proof of this position, the collaboration’ between PACAC and the FCT judiciary on the conception and execution of this workshop is proof-positive,” he said.



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