Bill Seeking Timeline for Civil, Criminal Cases Passes for Second Reading

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Udora Orizu in Abuja

The House of Representatives yesterday passed for second reading a Bill seeking to set timeline within which to start and conclude civil and criminal cases in High Courts and Appeal Courts to eliminate unnecessary delay in justice delivery and administration and boost people’s confidence in the judiciary.

The legislation entitled: “Bill for An Act to alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Cap. C23, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 to set time within which civil and criminal cases and matters are heard and determined at trial and appellate courts in order to eliminate unnecessary delay in justice administration and delivery; and for related matters,” is sponsored by Hon. Onofiok Luke.

The bill seeks to amend Chapter VII, Part IV of the Principal Act (the 1999 Constitution), by inserting after the existing section 287, a new section ‘287A’, that will comprise of 10 clauses.

According to the clauses in the bill’s draft, clause 1 mandates every trial superior court of record to deliver judgment on a matter before it within 270 days (a period of about nine months) from the date of the filing of the civil or criminal matter. Electoral matters are however exempted by this clause since such matters are specially regulated by other constitutional provisions.

Clause 2 also mandates trial inferior court of record or tribunal to deliver judgement on any matter before it within 210 days (a period of about seven months) from the date of the filing of the civil or criminal matter.

Clause 3 (a) however gives latitude to a trial superior court of record to deliver its judgment within 330 days (a period of 11 months) where the circumstances of a particular matter warrants. Such circumstances could be the complexity of the matter, number of parties and witnesses, number of documents or other exceptional circumstances.

Clause 4 mandates all appellate courts to hear and determine appeals within 180 days (a period of about six months) from the date of the filing of the appeal or such number of days not exceeding 270 days (a period of about nine months) if the circumstances of the appeal so warrants.

Leading the debate on the general principle of the bill, the sponsor, Luke said when passed, it will enhance speedy delivery of justice.

He said, ‘’This bill when passed will entirely change the face of justice in Nigeria for the good of all. It is more pleasing that this proposal is made in this particular legislative house which is known to be pro-people. The pace of justice delivery in Nigeria is alarmingly slow. In average, cases stay a minimum of five to 15 years before determination and judgment. The snail-like pace of justice delivery has caused great discomfort, inconveniences and hopelessness to litigants, investors and businesses.

“People only know the date they approach the court but they do not know when their matters will get determined. The inability of our judicial system to deliver justice to the people within reasonable time has occasioned great frustration on the part of the people, and has caused them to resort to self help. Slow justice delivery serves as a stumbling block to Nigeria’s industrialisation drive and foreign investment. We have heard about so many of our people in criminal cases wasting away and leading to the congestion of our correctional centres and case lists in our court rooms.”

Contributing in support of the Bill, the Chief Whip of the House, Mohammed Monguno said it was different from Administration of Criminal Justice Act, (ACJA)

“Administration of Criminal Justice Act only prescribes that criminal matters must be heard on a day to day basis and there should not be the chequered history of adjournments. There is no time limit within which criminal cases should be dispensed with.

“Once a time limit is constitutionally stipulated for the disposal of criminal cases, then the courts will make sure that these cases are not stagnant; they will make sure that they are disposed of by the time stipulated by the Constitution,” he said.

On his part, Hon. Nkem Abonta stated that ACJA needed total overhaul.

“A lot of things must be put in place before we can do this. If we do this without putting things in place, we will be setting criminal free,” he said.

The bill was eventually passed and referred to the Committee on the Review of the Constitution headed by Deputy Speaker Idris Wase to look at the issues.

Similarly, the House also passed for second reading a Bill seeking to remove railway from the exclusive legislative list and include it in the concurrent list.

The bill titled “An act to alter the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) to provide that the federal government and the state governments shall have concurrent legislative authority on railway, and to provide for matters related thereto”, scaled through second reading after members debated its general principle.

Sponsor of the bill, Hon. Babajimi Benson leading the debate on the bill said that it shall alter the Second Schedule to the Constitution (as amended), Act (N0 24) 1999.

“The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) is altered in the Second Schedule as set out below:

(a) in Part 1, under the Exclusive Legislative List, delete Item 55, and (b) in Part 11, under Concurrent Legislative List, after paragraph 20, insert the following new Item;

“HA – Railways 20A – The National Assembly may make laws for the Federation or any part thereof with respect to Railways. 20B – A State House of Assembly may, subject to paragraph 20A hereof, make laws for that State or any part thereof, with respect to Railways”, he said.

The bill got the support of the members when put to voice vote and referred to constitution amendment committee.