After reading Daily trust’s editorial of Monday 9th march 2015 with the above title, I understood better some of the issues that are bedeviling our judiciary and as an aspiring member of this noble profession,I believe our judicial system is dire need of reforms. We must do our best to sanitize and reform the system for the betterment of the country.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, recently expressed concern that the Supreme Court was burdened with a huge number of cases. He lamented that 5,000 appeals were pending before the apex court; some instituted in 2005.
Speaking at a forum organised by the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), the CJN said over 800 cases were filed at the Supreme Court in 2014 and 10 appeals have already been filed this year.
Painting a worrisome picture of our criminal justice system, Justice Mohammed said that 38,000 cases were before federal courts alone. Obviously, the number in state high courts and other courts of records would be much higher.
“The current reality paints a sobering picture. The number of cases pending before courts has reached critical proportions and we must use all appropriate means to stop it from spiralling out of control,” the CJN said.
Some of the cases have been going on for decades, with the litigants nowhere near getting a closure anytime soon; some have died while awaiting resolution. For instance, the Supreme Court gave a ruling on February 13, 2015, in a case instituted at a lower court in 1984 over a chieftaincy stool in Pankshin local government area of Plateau State, long after all the disputants had died.
The regrettable state of Nigeria’s justice system is a result of decades of neglect by successive administrations to grant financial autonomy to the third arm of government, in spite of the principle of separation of powers enshrined in our constitution.
There is no gainsaying the urgent need to reform the criminal justice system to enhance the rule of law, curb impunity and abuse of human rights. The archaic substantive and procedural criminal laws need to be reviewed and overhauled because as the dictum says, ‘justice delayed is justice denied.’
Justice Mohammed is in a position to fast-track the justice delivery system as his tenure will be defined by what he does in significantly improving the situation.
A starting point would be the setting up of new but effective and reliable Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) courts, like India did when it was faced with an even direr situation between 2001 and 2012, leading to the resolution of over two million cases. Several European countries have embraced the ADR option and freed the judiciaries from the heavy burden.
Mohammed also has to urgently tackle indolence among judges. His predecessor, Justice Mariam Aloma-Muktar, noted in 2013 that some judges did not deliver up to four judgments in a year, and would not start sitting by 9 am. Some even travelled abroad without permission, the retired CJN added. This scourge of indiscipline and slothfulness among judicial has to be arrested hence the need for a periodic appraisal of judges to ensure they are performing.
The rising incidence of corruption among personnel is another issue that has to be dealt with. The system is highly compromised, resulting in judges often granting frivolous injunctions. Judges who have soiled their robes are not fit to be part of the Bench.
Judges and other judicial staff need continuous retraining to handle difficult and complex cases. Provision of infrastructure is also critical to enhance performance. With the advances in information and communication technology, courts worldwide now operate with ease and efficiency to deliver quality rulings on time.
The National Assembly should speed up the passage of the Administration of Criminal Justice bill (2013), which seeks, among other issues, to limit the adjournment of cases to a maximum of five times with not more than 14 days interval, which is pending in the two chambers along with 14 other justice sector reform bills.
Amendment to relevant portions of the Constitution should be done to make some cases, like governorship and legislative elections petitions, terminate at the Court of Appeal. This will lessen the burden of the apex court.
Effective justice administration is key to the growth of democracy and economic development, hence the need to strengthen the system. In collaboration with the bench, the NBA should institute a system to punish lawyers who deliberately frustrate the judiciary; this way the association would be paving way to a faster regime.