Access to Justice says Wrong Appointments Undermine Judicial Independence; Advises against 2020 Annual Vacation

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Joseph Otteh Director Access to Justice

The judicial sector watch-dog, Access to Justice (A2J) has warned that the act of cherry-picking persons to be appointed as judges would undermine the independence of Nigerian judiciary.

In order to prevent the propagation of a culture of arbitrariness in the exercise of the president’s powers over the appointment of Judges, the group urged President Muhammdadu Buhari to immediately furnish reasons for not appointing all the persons nominated by the National Judicial Council (NJC) for appointment into the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory.

According to the group, the president’s selection decisions lack transparency, disrespects, judiciary and threaten judicial independence.

“It clearly would have been more appropriate for Nigeria’s president to provide both the Judiciary and the public with clear, cogent, justifiable and defensible reasons for downsizing a list sent to him for appointment by the Judiciary. The precedent set by the president in taking this action is new, but nevertheless an ominous threat to the autonomy of the Judiciary in Nigeria,” the group said in a statement co-signed by the Mr. Joseph Otteh and Deji Ajare, convener and project director respectively.

They said: “We urge the Nigerian Judiciary, particularly the NJC, to observe the handwriting on the wall, and see how its own actions are hurting the independence of the Judiciary. Its consistent failure to observe the appointment guidelines it put forth (that could have helped strengthen the calibre of persons who get into judicial positions) may be contributing to the escalating levels of disrespect of the Judiciary by other branches of government.

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“The NJC needs to reposition and revitalise the Judiciary. This is particularly urgent in light of the tumultuous events of the past few years where a business as usual approach has led to a reduction of the stock of the Judiciary. Right now, there seems to be no visible or significant efforts by the Council to address the dysfunctionalities in the Judiciary, or lift up public perceptions of the Judiciary. If the NJC continues down this pathway, the Judiciary’s stock value will only be plummeting downwards at a faster rate.”

A2J also stated that proceeding on annual vacation after the coronavirus lockdown by judges is insensitive. While commending States that have waived this year’s vacation, the group said the announcement by other Federal and State Judiciaries that their courts will proceed on vacations, for at least a two-month period, is unfortunate.

According to them, thousands of cases were affected by the suspension of court sittings following the chief justice’s directive to suspend court activities in March, or the limited scope of hearings taking place following the partial resumption of court business.

“The idea of taking en bloc judicial vacations is wrong. Many judiciaries around the world that practiced it have abandoned the model. Judicial officers may take individual vacations as individualized vacations have lesser effect on the delivery of judicial services as a whole. Second, the length of judicial vacations, when calculated cumulatively over a given year, is also excessive.

“The NJC must step in now, just as it weighed in to direct the suspension of court proceedings following National Policies and Guidelines in March and April. The NJC ought now to make a Judiciary-wide policy on vacations that demonstrates that the Nigerian Judiciary does not exist in an abstract institutional vacuum of its creation, but is part and parcel of Nigerian society, and will itself make the sacrifices necessary to ensure the overall good and welfare of the Nigerian people.

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“The NJC should direct all the courts that have announced judicial vacations to reverse those decisions now,” A2J stated.

The Guardian

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