As calls for reforms in the country’s justice system increase, the leadership of the courts, for instance the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Walter Onnoghen and the now retired Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, have indicated their determination to reform the major problems.
Here are six major problems of the judiciary and what the senior judges said about them:
Corruption in the judiciary
Justice Onnoghen: 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 bedevilled 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.
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.
Justice Auta: If I say there is no corruption in the judiciary, I will be lying. But we are doing something about it.
Backlog of pending cases
Justice Onnoghen: We have just directed heads of courts to clampdown on both prosecution and defence counsel who indulge in the unethical practice of deploying delay tactics to stall criminal trials. Heads of courts are now to report such cases to the NJC which in turn, would transmit them to the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee; in the case of senior advocates, and Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee in the case of other legal practitioners.
To further improve the administration of justice, the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, Practice Directions as well as Rules of Court should be complied with. While commending the hard work of judicial officers, I will not fail to urge that every effort is made to expedite the timeous determination of all matters particularly those of criminal nature.
Low input of technology
Justice Onnoghen: The conventional method of justice delivery in Nigerian courts today is cumbersome, time consuming, susceptible to loss or theft of court documents. There is difficulty in filing court processes. Information Technology assisted justice system will therefore enhance justice by ensuring, for example that information is adequately captured and passed on digitally. Data exchange will not be disintegrated and court processes will be finalized and ready on demand. With e-justice system, case management will be automated, payment of fees will be made through dedicated websites to reduce corruption, and forms that simplify and streamline court proceedings will be available to court users online. However, such measures must be accompanied by enhanced capacity of personnel and investments in cyber security.”
The Supreme Court in the past three legal years embarked upon a noble plan to upgrade its courtrooms to improve upon court efficiency through the use of technology and achieving a fair and speedy resolution of cases before the court. I am happy and proud to inform you that the court is substantially ICT compliant.
Justice Auta: We also introduced the e-filing centre intended to give practitioners the option of even filing process from the comfort of their offices when fully developed. With the help of the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), the Federal High Court has the facility to conduct video trials between the court and the Kuje Prison. Electronic recording was introduced in some of the courts while others will be so provided in the history of the court.
Justice Onnoghen: The pronouncements of every court ought to be firmly enforced and complied with, without exception unless such order/pronouncement is varied by proper judicial means. It is therefore important to note that any attempt of apparent refusal by certain parties to comply with valid court judgments and pronouncements must be condemned. 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.
Justice Auta: I give credit to the Federal Government that the money due to the judiciary, they give to them through the National Judicial Council and they spend it according to their budget. But in the states, where it is stated categorically in the constitution that it should be given to the head of courts, it is not being done. The chief judges go cap in hand to the governor and he gives them what he wants.
Welfare of judges
Justice Onnoghen: I am proud to announce that, the sum of N5.2 billion has so far been disbursed as pension payments including arrears, to retired judicial officers
Justice Auta: I took it as a point of duty to encourage judges to undertake medical check-ups to know the state of their health and thus we have been able to save lives and sponsoring treatments both within and outside the country where the situation so demanded.
Inadequate court buildings
Justice Onnoghen: We continue to face challenges of accommodation in the courts as well as residences for our judicial officers. We have, however, embarked upon various interventions within our lean resources, to address this critical element of an independent judiciary.
Justice Auta: I have during my tenure vigorously pursued institutional and infrastructural development of the court. We established and commissioned new divisions and court buildings in some states of the federation where none were available.
Source: Daily Trust
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