Falana Flays Judges for Imposing Fines on Public Interest Litigants

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Femi Falana

Davidson Iriekpen

Lagos lawyer and activist, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), has condemned the habit of imposing of fines by high court judges on public interest litigants, describing their action as unconstitutional.

Falana in a statement issued yesterday said such action cannot be justified under the Constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.

He argued that when a judge finds out that a litigant lacks the locus to institute a suit, such suit should be struck out or dismissed without fine.

The Lagos lawyer  stated that no judge is empowered by the constitution, high court law or rules of court to impose fines of N5 million or N10 million on a litigant who has not been tried and convicted for committing a criminal offence in Nigeria.

He thus, considered it a renewed attack on public interest litigation by the judges.

He added that as far as the law stands, no judge has the power to order a litigant to pay costs outside the ambit of the rules of the respective high courts.

The human rights lawyer contended that even in the award of costs, litigants and their counsel are given fair hearing by judges.

He said since access to court has been guaranteed by sections 6 and 36 of the 1999 Constitution and article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights Act, it is illegal and unconstitutional to impose fines on aggrieved citizens who approach the courts to challenge the illegal official policies or unconstitutional legislations under the current democratic dispensation.

“In recent time, some High Court judges have been reported to have imposed fines ranging from N5 million to N10 million on concerned citizens whose cases were struck out for want of locus standi.

“With respect, the renewed attack on public interest litigation by judges cannot be justified under the Constitution and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act.

“Specifically, the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules 2009 have  enjoined judges to encourage public interest litigation in promoting the human rights of Nigerian people. Ex abundanti cautela, the doctrine of locus standi has been abolished in the area of human rights by Order III of the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure Rules 2009.

“Since access to court has been guaranteed by sections 6 and 36 of the 1999 Constitution and article 7 of the African Charter on Hunan and Peoples Rights Act it is illegal and unconstitutional to impose fines on aggrieved citizens who approach the courts to challenge the illegal official policies or unconstitutional legislations under the current democratic dispensation.

“ As far as the law stands no judge has the power to order a litigant to pay costs outside the ambit of  the Rules of the respective high courts. Even in the award of costs litigants and their counsel are given fair hearing by judges.

 “We  are therefore compelled to draw the attention of our judges to the case of Fawehinmi v Akilu (1997) NWLR (Pt 65) 979 wherein the Supreme Court overruled the  case of Abraham Adesanya v The President (1981) ANLR 1. Since the anachronistic doctrine has been set aside to pave way for public interest litigation our judges should desist from striking out or dismissing cases which are filed to challenge impunity of public officers in Nigeria.”