Onnoghen’s Trial:  Appeal Court Berates CCT over Disobedience of Court Orders

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  • Says suspension breaches right to fair hearing, dismiss appeals as overtaken

By Alex Enumah in Abuja

The Court of Appeal, Abuja Division on Friday berated the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) over its refusal to obey orders of court made against it during the trial of former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen.

Onnoghen, who was in January this year dragged before the tribunal over charges of failure to declare his assets as required by law for public officers, was on April 18, 2019 convicted by the CCT on all six-count charge preferred against him by the federal government.

However, delivering judgement in four interlocutory appeals filed by Onnoghen, the appellate court held that orders of court are sacrosanct and must be obeyed until they are set aside.

The Court of Appeal in another judgment also faulted the suspension of Onnoghen on the grounds that the suspension violated the right of the former CJN to fair hearing, adding that the order, which was obtained in secrecy posed a lot of questions.

In the first appeal, which borders on Onnoghen’s suspension as Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and  Chairman of the National Judicial Council (NJC), the three-member  panel presided by Justice  Stephen Adah,  held that justice must not be shrouded in secrecy as done in the granting of the ex parte application.

The appellate court said, from the record of proceedings, parties had joined issues and matter adjourned to a later date, only for the federal government to go behind to take order that affected the interest of the appellant, thereby denying him the opportunity to be heard in the matter.

However, the court declined to make any order against the suspension since the trial had been concluded and that an appeal on the substantive matter was pending before the court.

“Since the ex parte order had been spent and cannot serve any useful purpose and judgement in the substantive matter had been delivered, the appeal is hereby struck out,” Justice Adah held.

In the second appeal relating to the bench warrant issued against Onnoghen by the CCT, the court struck out the appeal on the ground that the records of proceedings transmitted to the court did not show that bench warrant was issued and that there was no supplementary records to established that warrant for arrest was made.

“There is nothing in this appeal that requires the attention of the court, it is here by struck out,” Justice Adah held.

In the third appeal, Justice Tinuade Akomolafe Wilson, who delivered the judgement of the three-member panel, agreed with the tribunal that the new law allows the action of the CCT.

According to the judgement although the general principle of law is that when jurisdiction of a court is challenged, the issue of jurisdiction must be first determined, nonetheless, the judge held that the specific legislation in Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 overrides the general principle of law. The appeal was consequently dismissed.

In the fourth appeal, which borders on the refusal of the CCT to obey orders of four different courts restraining the tribunal from proceeding with the trial of Onnoghen pending the hearing and determination of the various substantive suits in their courts, the appellate court held that the tribunal erred in law by disobeying the orders.

Justice Peter Igeh, who delivered the judgement held, “Judgments, rulings, decisions and orders issued by court of law are sacrosanct and must be obeyed until they are set aside.

“Parties are bound by court orders and the order must not be treated with levity.”