• NJC C’ttee to monitor judges
• Supreme, Appeal Courts get special dates for corruption trials
By Alex Enumah in Abuja
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen yesterday announced widespread reforms in the judiciary that would give bite to the federal government’s war against corruption, including his directive to all heads of courts in the country to compile and forward to the National Judicial Council (NJC) comprehensive lists of all corruption and financial crime cases being handled by their various courts.
This is even as the CJN equally ordered the heads of courts to designate at least one court in their various jurisdictions as special courts solely for the purpose of hearing and speedily determining corruption and financial crime cases, depending on the volume of such cases in their jurisdictions.
The CJN read the riot act yesterday at a special session of the Supreme Court of Nigeria (SCN) to mark the commencement of the 2017/2018 Legal Year and the swearing-in of 29 new Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) in Abuja.
To ensure the effectiveness of this new measures, Justice Onnoghen gave marching orders to all heads of courts to clamp down on both prosecution and defence counsel who indulge in the unethical practice of deploying delay tactics to stall criminal trials.
To this effect, the heads of courts will henceforth report cases of unnecessary delays to the NJC which in turn, would transmit them to the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC), in the case of SANs, and the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC), in the case of other legal practitioners.
In the event where such cases come on appeal to the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court, the CJN directed the relevant departments to fix special dates solely for hearing and determining such appeals.
To properly monitor and effectively enforce the new policy, Justice Onnoghen announced that the NJC will constitute an Anti-Corruption Cases Trial Monitoring Committee (ACTMC) at its 88th meeting to be saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that both trial and appellate courts handling corruption and financial crime cases key into and abide by the renewed efforts at ridding the country of the cankerworm of corruption.
The CJN said with pre-election appeals cases now out of the way, the Supreme Court would henceforth channel its energy towards clearing as many of the corruption and financial crime cases as possible.
According to him, “We in the Supreme Court, having reduced the pre-election appeals in the course of the third term of the last legal year, will devote much of this first term in dealing, by way of task work, with the identified 18 EFCC, ICPC and economic crime cases alongside the normal civil, criminal and political cases.”
Justice Onnoghen also warned bribe givers to desist from their dastardly act and vowed to bring the full wrath of the law on anyone caught in the act.
“I encourage members of the public to cut off the supply side of corruption by stopping the offering of bribes to judicial officers.
“The full wrath of the law will be visited on all those caught in this nefarious activity that is capable of eroding integrity and confidence in the judiciary,” he charged.
He also called on all state organs and individuals to obey the rulings of the court, stating: “Again, the pronouncements of every court ought to be firmly enforced and complied with, without exception unless such order/pronouncement is varied by proper judicial means.
“It is therefore important to note that any attempt or apparent refusal by certain parties to comply with valid court judgments and pronouncements must be condemned.
“Disobedience of or non-compliance with judicial orders is a recipe for breakdown of law and order. Such developments are at variance with the principles and tenets of the rule of law in a democratic government,” he stressed.
Calling on the 29 new SANs to guard their ranks jealously, the CJN warned that the award was a privilege, which stood to be withdrawn if abused.
“I must remind you that being a privilege, it can and shall be withdrawn if abused. The privilege you are conferred with today is not intended as a weapon of intimidation or licence for rudeness and arrogance,” the CJN added.
Justice Onnoghen reiterated his earlier resolved to leave a lasting legacy in the judiciary sector by pursuing relevant reforms that will reposition the judiciary in the country.
“Upon my assumption of office as the Chief Justice of Nigeria, my primary concern was, and still is, amongst others, to ensure a progressive upgrade of the judiciary especially in areas of administration, practice directions, ensuring the independence of the judiciary and contributing significantly to the fight against corruption.
“I am therefore committed to ensuring that these developments are brought to fruition through concerted effort,” he said.
He also used the occasion to announce the advances the Supreme Court had made in the use of technology towards achieving fair and speedy resolution of cases to include a technology-enabled judges’ bench, high-definition audio/video recording equipment, FTR software to enable real-time transcription and transmission of court proceedings, a high-tech mobile podium for presentations, document cameras to display exhibits, and viewing screens in the gallery, among others.
Also speaking, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) commended the courts for their quick responses to economic and corruption related issues.
He said the Supreme Court would soon be invited to intervene in some national issues affecting the national security of the country and the court would be expected to dispense justice in a fair and courageous manner as done in the past.
He said the federal government would do everything possible to institute peace and security in the nation, and ensure the survival of democracy, adding that all agencies under his ministry would be made to respect the judiciary.
He, however, called for staggered vacations for judges instead of the current two and half-month long vacation that is akin to total shutdown of the judiciary between July and September every year.
“I proffer this opinion confident of the capacity of the judicial arm to constantly renew and transform itself through a periodic review of its systems and processes,” Malami said.