The Court of Appeal on Monday, 11th December, 2017 delivered a landmark Judgment in the celebrated case of Honourable Justice Hyeladzira Anita Nganjiwa V. Federal Republic of Nigeria (CA/L/969c/2017). The Court of Appeal, while setting aside the ruling of the High Court of Lagos State, coram Akintoye J., held inter alia that a sitting judge can not be criminally tried for an alleged misconduct (offence) occasioned in the cause of discharge of his Judicial functions. You would recall that in a sting operation earlier this year, operatives of the State Security Service (SSS) has invaded the abode of serving Judges/Justices to raid their apartment. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had also investigated some serving Judges/Justices and consequently initiated criminal prosecution against them.
Justice Nganjiwa is one of the Justices presently facing criminal charge owing to alleged misconduct (offence) occasioned in the cause of his Judicial functions.
There has been several reactions from various quarters (especially amongst lawyers) to the judgment of the Court of Appeal in the referred case. The tone of the on going discussions amongst lawyers leaves a very sour taste in the mouth.
Lawyers have used various forms of adjectives and nomenclature to describe the Justices that decided the appeal. Lawyers have turned to ordinary men on the street in their comments on a judgment of an appellate court. One can only begin to wonder what has happened to ethics and decorum.
Except I missed some lectures on Legal Ethics, I have stored somewhere in my memory that no matter what a Judge does in the exercise of his Judicial powers and/or discretion, a lawyer is bound to be pleased with it. This explains why a lawyer would always echo “as the Court pleases to all acts (I dare say, even omissions) of a Judge.
I also know that no matter how “bad” (i use this word with caution because it is not in my place to term a judgement as such) a judgement is, it is not in the place of a lawyer to publicly castigate and/or label the judgment as “bad”. The judicial option opened to a dissatisfied party in a suit is to appeal such decision at an appellate court. The grievance mechanism goes on till the case gets to the Supreme Court or such other court that maybe designated as the last court of resort for such nature of case. The moment the Supreme Court delivers a decision on such case, that is the FINAL. The aggrieved party can only wait till the day of judgment for a review of such judgment. It is however inappropriate for lawyers to openly attack the decision of the Court of Appeal when there is still a last option of appeal (to the Supreme Court). Such attacks would be classically unethical and morally uncouth.
May I also quickly note that to the best of my knowledge, the only opportunity afforded a lawyer to critique any decision of court (usually Supreme Court Judgments) is where such critique is for academic purposes and such critique must be fair and balanced.
I only wish lawyers would move away from the sentiments relating to the decision of the Court of Appeal in Nganjiya V FRN and don their hats of professional courtesy.