Court declares unconstitutional, submission of judicial budget to executive
Justice G.B Briki-Okolosi of the Delta State High Court, Asaba, has declared as unconstitutional, the submission of a yearly budget of the Delta State Judiciary to the executive arm for scrutiny before inclusion in the Appropriation Bill.
According to the judge, it is an aberration, and therefore, unconstitutional.
“This court has inherent power under the Constitution, considering that the provisions of the Constitution are sacrosanct, to arrest the apparent drift characterised by the clear and unconstitutional practice entrenched over the years, and particularly, since 1999.
“I am of the firm view that by declaring unconstitutional, this age-long practice in Delta State of requiring the judicial arm to submit its Budgetary Estimates to the executive arm of consideration and inclusion in the Executive Appropriation Bill.
“It is believed that it is set to position its judiciary among the best in Nigeria, if not the best. I must not fail to commend the claimants for their doggedness and for filing the present suit offering the opportunity to redress the situation,” the judge held. Two lawyers seeking financial autonomy for the judiciary in the state had filed the action.
The applicants are John Aikpokpo-Martins and Olukunle Ogheneovo Edun, while the defendants in the suit marked A/164/2022 are governor of Delta State, Delta State House of Assembly, the Chief Judge of Delta State, Delta State Judicial Service Commission, Accountant-General of Delta State and President, Customary Court of Appeal, Delta State.
The case borders on the interpretation, as well as, the appropriate consequence of sections 120 (4), 121 (2) & (3) and 124 (4) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as altered by the Fourth Alteration, No. 4) Act No. 7 of 2017.
It specifically brings to fore the case for financial autonomy for the third arm of the government (that is, the Judiciary), and particularly, its mode of implementation in the Delta State.
The argument supporting the justification of the suit is the principle of separation of powers, wherein the governance structure or power of the state is shared equally between the three principal arms of government, that is, the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary.
The sixth defendant, the head of the Customary Court of Appeal of Delta State, was made party in the suit, because section 121 (3) (b) of the Constitution specifically provides that the ‘amount standing to the credit of the judiciary in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the state in the case of the judiciary, shall be paid directly to the heads of the courts concerned.’
In Delta State, the applicants argued that whereas constitutionally, the Head of the Judiciary is the Chief Judge, within the context of financial autonomy, the phrase ‘heads of court’ in the section translates to the Chief Judge of the High Court of the state and the President of the Customary Court of Appeal of the state.
The suit queries the current budgeting practice, which is skewed towards under- appropriation of funds for the judiciary and the manner of the release of the funds appropriated.
The applicants had sought the grant of the following reliefs; a declaration that by virtue of the joint reading of the provisions of Sections 120(4), 121(2), 121(3) & 124(4) of the 1999 Constitution, the 4th, 5th and 6th defendants’ budget and/or estimates of their expenditure and the Judiciary in Delta State, after being passed by the second defendant are automatically charged upon the Consolidated Revenue Fund of Delta State, and therefore, the 1st and 5th defendants and/or any of their agents, subordinates and/or agencies lack the vires and authority to tamper with same or impose any condition for their disbursement and/or release of same to the 3rd and 6th defendants.
An order of perpetual injunction restraining the 1st defendant from further demanding, presenting and/or laying the expenditure of the estimates of the 3rd, 4th & 6th defendants and (/or) the Judiciary in Delta State before the 2nd defendant for appropriation or any purpose however.
An order compelling the Accountant-General of Delta State (5th defendant) to pay to the 3rd and 6th defendants, directly, unconditionally and without further Executive approving protocol or resort to the 1st defendant, its subordinates, officers and servants; all such monies appropriated by the 2nd defendant and standing to the credit of the 3rd, 4th & 6th defendants and the Judiciary in Delta State in the Consolidated Revenue Fund of Delta State and not later than December 30, 2022 or upon the budgets estimates being passed by the 2nd defendant and others.
The case of the applicants is on the premise that the defendants have not been obeying the letter of the provisions of the Constitution that guarantees the independence of the judiciary by the present budget practice by which the 1st defendants undertakes the responsibility for preparing the estimates of revenue and expenditure for the judiciary, which are then presented to the 2nd defendant for appropriation.
It is their further contention that this is contrary to the provisions of the Constitution. It is the further case of the applicant claimants that the proper practice recommended by the Constitution is for the 3rd, 4th and 6th defendants to present such estimates directly to the 2nd defendant for appropriation into law for a particular financial year. The judge also granted all the reliefs sought with some amendments.