Access to Justice condemns NJC’s policy direction on political, election related cases
Access to Justice (A2J) has condemned the National Judicial Council (NJC) new Policy Directions on political and election related cases.
The body said the policy does not run the length of the problem of conflicting Court judgments, adding that the policy concentrated too much power on Chief Judges that could be abused and used to violate constitutionally protected rights of fair hearing.
The policy, it said, falls short in articulating a better approach to dealing with abuses of adjudicational authority by erring judges.
NJC last week issued new Policy Directions to remedy the multiplicity of litigations of political suits at different Courts of coordinate jurisdiction across the nation, resulting in conflicting orders on the same issues and facts.
A2J, in a statement signed by its Convener, Joseph Otteh, said Policy Direction forbids cases to be assigned or entertained by any court once another court has ruled upon facts presumably.
“This rule creates a real risk that Chief Judges will refuse to assign any case filed in court, where they believe that a case has facts or issues that have been ruled upon. Cases filed in court may not come in a straight jacket.
“Therefore, any assessment by a Chief Judge that a case has facts or issues which have been ‘ruled upon’ may be a patently wrong or unfounded one, or at least may be contestable. The Policy Directives do not offer litigants the opportunity to make representations to a Chief Judge before or even after a decision is made by the Chief Judge to preclude the assignment of the case.
“This power is also arguably unconstitutional. Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution provides that every person is entitled to a fair hearing in the determination of his civil rights and obligations, while Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights guarantees every person the right to have their causes heard.
“This means that, whatever is the merit of the case, a litigant has the right to present their case to an adjudicating authority. To give Chief Judges the power to close-off the door to the exercise of this important constitutional right peremptorily is particularly obnoxious and objectionable. It is mostly after a case has been presented at trial that it will fall to be decided whether ‘facts and issues’ in a case have been the subject of a previous litigation, and not before it.”
“The Judiciary ought to be foremost in showing greater sensitivity to protecting rights of access to court and not restricting it,” A2J lamented.
The group stressed that the Policy Directions fails to address the accountability of individual Judges for failure to exercise proper diligence when adjudicating over election/political cases.
It added that the NJC’s track record in dealing with judges found guilty of misconduct for issuing improper ex parte orders is slack and poor, and has little deterrent value.
“Placing erring judges on a watch list and suspending their elevation when due is hardly a cogent palliative, particularly given that under the NJC’s Appointment Guidelines, Judges are not due for elevation as of right, but must pass an open, transparent and merit-based competitive process to get selected for appointment to a higher court.
“Even at that, many Judges could be content with their current positions and not desire to be elevated in the first place, and so those sanctions mean next to nothing to them,” it declared.