Fines on Public Interest Suits Unconstitutional – Falana to Judges

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Activist lawyer Mr Femi Falana (SAN) has advised judges to stop imposing fines on public interest litigations for want of locus standi.

He said such fines imposed by the courts are unconstitutional.

“As far as the law stands, no judge has the power to order a litigant to pay costs outside the ambit of the rules of the respective High Courts,” Falana said.

Some High Court judges have been reported to have imposed fines, ranging from N5 million to N10 million, on litigants whose cases were struck out for want of locus standi.

The activist lawyer contended that no judge is empowered by the Constitution, High Court Law or Rules of Court to impose such fines on a litigant who has not been tried and convicted for committing a criminal offence.

In a statement yesterday in Lagos, Falana condemned what he called “the renewed attack” on public interest litigations by judges.

The eminent lawyer argued that such imposition of fines cannot be justified under the Constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.

He said the doctrine of locus standi had been abolished on human rights matters by Order III of the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure Rules 2009.

The statement added: “Specifically, the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009 have enjoined judges to encourage public interest litigation in promoting the human rights of Nigerian people. Ex abundanti cautela, the doctrine of locus standi, has been abolished in the area of human rights by Order III of the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure Rules 2009.

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“Since access to court has been guaranteed by sections 6 and 36 of the 1999 Constitution and Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights Act, it is illegal and unconstitutional to impose fines on aggrieved citizens who approach the courts to challenge the illegal official policies or unconstitutional legislation under the current democratic dispensation.

“As far as the law stands, no judge has the power to order a litigant to pay costs outside the ambit of the rules of the respective High Courts.

“Even in the award of costs, litigants and their counsel are given fair hearing by judges. Why then are fines imposed on litigants or lawyers without allowing them to make any representation?

“I wish to state that no judge is empowered by the Constitution, High Court Law or Rules of Court to impose fines of N5 million or N10 million on a litigant who has not been tried and convicted for committing a criminal offence in Nigeria.

“We are, therefore, compelled to draw the attention of our judges to the case of Fawehinmi v Akilu (1997) NWLR (Pt 65) 979 wherein the Supreme Court overruled the case of Abraham Adesanya v The President (1981) ANLR 1.

“Since the anachronistic doctrine has been set aside to pave way for public interest litigation, our judges should desist from striking out or dismissing cases which are filed to challenge impunity of public officers in Nigeria.”

The Nation

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