‘Why hire a lawyer when you can buy a judge?’ The above phrase whether spoken in reality or imagined has been used by many to describe the state of This is the saddening state in which the arm of the judiciary has found itself around the world. The saber-toothed animal – corruption, has unfortunately grasped the innocent flesh of the judiciary. Growing up, I was taught that the court is the last hope of a common man in a nation. With corruption eating deep into the fabrics of the judiciary, I cannot help but wonder what the hope and fate a common man is. Where has justice gone?
The judiciary is saddled with the responsibility of settling disputes in line with appropriate justice and the rule of law and as such, the importance of a clean judiciary system cannot be overemphasized. A non-corrupt judiciary is a fundamental condition for the endorsement of law and the ability to guarantee basic human rights in the society. It therefore necessitates the judiciary to be an independent and fair body that fights corruption, unfortunately, otherwise is seen in many judicial systems across the globe. Huguette Labelle says ‘‘Equal treatment before the law is a pillar of democratic societies. When the courts are corrupted by greed or political expediency, the scales of justice are tipped and ordinary people suffer. Judicial corruption means the innocent goes unheard, while the guilty act with impunity.’’ The level of truism in this statement is so evident that citizens across different countries can attest to this. Corruption in its definition is varied but, in accordance with this context, corruption can be defined as the abuse of office for personal or private gain. Over the years and across different system of judiciaries, corruption has figuratively proven to be an animal that rips apart the flesh of progress, development and the integrity of countries. The ‘animal’ on its own is harmless except it gathers objects (humans) in which it inject its venom into, herein making these humans corrupt.
A well functioning justice system is crucial in addressing corruption effectively, which in turn is important for development. But in a situation where the hunter becomes the hunted or where the doctors are themselves the virus, what then is the hope of a common man?
Understanding a problem in its proper context is an important step towards finding a solution. It is easy to criticize a corrupt judge but imagine a judge who cannot provide the basic needs for his or her family through the remuneration received from the state. It is tempting to take a shortcut to declare low salaries as one of the causes of judicial corruption, although this is an actual contributing factor to this problem, a deeper understanding is needed. It is proper understanding one needs to realize that while judicial corruption may start as an isolated decision by an individual, it is in shock now widespread to have become a social phenomenon. At a certain point where judges are socialized into becoming corrupt, a judge who does not play along runs the risk of becoming an outcast. This might even sometimes result to gambling away his or her chances of promotion and is likely to leave the judicial profession if noticed to be a potential threat to corrupt practices. Being a maverick in this situation might not be easy. The integrity of every corrupt individual is long gone, serving as a reminder while displaying acts of integrity might stir up frustration and jealousy which subsequently leads to plots of devious plans for such maverick in exiting the system.
Political instability and democratic insecurity are other potential factors that can affect the independence of the judiciary which simultaneously serves as a fuel to corruption. Generally, it seems that states with high political competition and with a regular change in power have a higher level of judicial integrity. In states with only one strong political force, that political party is more likely to get involved in the duty of the judiciary in order to keep its political strength. The irresponsibility of other arms of government i.e. executive and legislature, have grave consequences on the effectiveness of the judiciary. In an instance where the Federal Government herself defies court orders or where the supposed executioners of judgments are the ones disobeying it, what other form of frustration is left? The result of hard working judges who have adjudicated matters in the best definition of justice in this situation is thrown into the bin. Consequently, frustrated judges adjudicate matters lackadaisically in the belief that ‘if the foundation be destroyed, what shall the righteous do’? In result, judicial corruption sets in.
It has now become clear that corruption is one of the main obstacles to peace, sustainable development, democracy and human rights around the globe. Thus, it becomes imperative to spell out some measures to cage, if not eliminate, this ‘animal’. As corruption has been a hidden, permitted and celebrated social phenomenon, it might be difficult to tail it because it requires curbing these practices from the heart of individuals. It is quite difficult to change a man. Flowing from this, one effective proffered solution is to ensure new intakes of judges are critically and intensely screened. Screening in this context does not connote academic or career check but a thorough background check to spot any potential flair for the engagement in judicial corruption. This act would go a long way in not only curbing corruption but saving the future of the judicial systems.
Although there are provisions and establishments (Judicial councils) across the world that check the operations of erring judges with the purpose of reprimanding them, research has shown that most of these bodies are at the same time saddled with diverse other enormous duties which might obstruct the efficient performance of checking judges. There is a further need for the special establishment of a body that would be solely responsible for checking judges, taking complaints and later on reporting to appropriate authorities. It is also important that this body be independent and free from any influence of any sort.
I do not have to be Martin Luther King jr. to have a dream, although different, that one day; the last hope of a common man can be so relied upon.
Fowowe Adetomiwa is an undergraduate in Adekunle Ajasin University Akungba-Akoko where he studies Law. Amid other positions, Fowowe