The Judiciary’s Call for A Show of Interest to Join it’s Ranks: A Call that is Gradually Turning into A Death Sentence for Lawyers

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By Bayo Akinlade Esq

This might sound like a harsh topic but it’s the best I got for now, besides; if you read the content you may just see a twist to all these drama taking place within the Judiciary.

In the midst of announcing the obituary of jurists dying while still serving in their prime; the Legal Community is receiving invitations from the Judiciary asking Lawyers to apply to be appointed as Judges.

Frankly, I am getting irritated daily by these monotonous, over-simplified and meaningless system of filling the ranks of the Judiciary but who am I to challenge a system soo enshrined in nepotistic and corrupt values.

Let’s go straight to it :

When a Judge is elevated to the higher bench or retires or is otherwise elevated to the life beyond (Dies) the Judiciary kicks up its process of recruitment to fill its ranks via a notice to the legal community for ‘Lawyers’ (Magistrates are Lawyers too) to apply to show an interest that they want to be Judges.

A GLOBAL OUTLOOK:

All Judges of Superior Courts of Records are Lawyers! (Just thought to reemphasize that point).

Judges around the world are either;

1. Appointed – by an appointing authority, following the rules laid down and encoded in statutes; or

2. Selected – by traditional and accepted methods which includes trusting the judgement of the person doing the selecting (usually the Chief Judge who may rely on the advice of other Judges and senior lawyers). The ‘Selector’ is known to be an honest, transparent and incorruptible judge himself and a good judge of character, or;

3. Election – In this case; (Countries like the USA) lawyers run for the office of a Judge. They are voted in by the people within that District or State and they understand that they are accountable and committed to the people. The Judges here aim to dispense the people’s sense of justice thus less susceptible to personal influences and are generally independent.

In Nigeria, we have an interesting system where we have laws codified on how appointments are to be done but these laws are soo ambiguous that the selection and election methods are adopted underneath. However, these other models are used wrongly and sadly, this hybrid system has seriously compromised our justice delivery sector.

CAN I MAKE SOME SUGGESTIONS:

Let me note here that every Judge appointed has a great impact on the potency or otherwise of our Justice System. If a Lawyer is appointed a Judge at the age of 35, with the retirement age at 70; that is 35 years of the future of our justice system already set in stone. So this is no JOKE!

1. Elevate serving Magistrates:

Many have opposed my opinion as it concerns the Lower Courts but I am not here to convince anyone.

For many reasons, elevating a Magistrate is the least tricky and more predictable way to go especially if you want to evaluate outcomes of reforms within the Justice delivery Sector.

We already know their capacity and ability so no surprises on how they may turn out 5 to 10 years down the line. However; a Magistrate elevated to the High Court Bench or even directly to the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court must have at least 15 more years to serve on the higher bench and must have been a Magistrate for at least 7 years, for High Court and for at least 10 to 15 years, for the CA or SC.

A Magistrate for all intent and purposes has all the basic knowledge and experience in adjudications and unlikely to have conflicts of interest as others I will mention below may have.

2. Lawyers in Active Litigation Practice:

These set of Lawyers; in my opinion, comes in a distance second in the appointing process. These Lawyers once appointed should be specialized and restricted to their area of specialization when they become Judges.

I see no point in appointing a Lawyer whose expertise at the Bar was in administration of criminal justice only for him to be a judge and then sit in the general civil or family court divisions… What a waste of potential if you ask me.

Considering the fact that today’s Judge only sits on one case 4 to 5 times in one legal year and that’s if you are lucky, it is best that such a Judge stays in one division for the entire period of their time in service.

3. The State Counsel:

I am at a crossroad when it comes to State Counsel. I wonder sometimes what they bring to the table but I just have to give them the benefit of the doubt.

I would ordinarily not recommend appointing State Counsel into the Bench in Nigeria mainly because of how we are structured..nepotism, influence peddling and the fact that in some Ministries of Justices, some State Counsel do absolutely NOTHING!

And unless we change our laws and separate the office of the Attorney General from the Minister or Commissioner for Justice, things may never get better on this front.

My main concern in appointing a State Counsel as a Judge is the underlining constant temptation to misunderstand their new role as Judges and think themselves as beholding to their government overlords….basically, the CIVIL SERVANT mentality where the Governor or Commissioner is their boss and not the people.

They are more likely to be influenced by the appointing authority and not insist on their independence as Judges.

They are likely to think of the Executive arm of Government or the Chief Judge as masters instead of seeing the people as their priority.

Let me conclude and suggest that in ensuring and promoting public confidence in our Judiciary we must insist that:

1. The names of all those who apply to be Judges must be WIDELY published.

2. The measure used to shortlist candidates must be made known to all.

3. The final list of successful candidates must be published with reasons and their CV’s must be made public.

Appointing a Judge is a very important exercise, it is perhaps more important than how we elect people into our Executive or the Legislative arm of Government.

TO LAWYERS:

My advice to candidates are simple: 1. Don’t apply to be a Judge because of monetary or social concerns – it’s not a place to go make money or feel important with yourself, 2. It is not a retirement plan so don’t go there, 3. Don’t go there because you think you are NOT successful in your practice, 4. It is not a career advancement!

To be a judge is a calling not a job.
If you love justice, and you really want to make a difference, search your hearts, save ‘’us’’ from your ambitions first, then and only then will you be ready……… Ready to Serve.

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