To fast-track dispensation of justice (2)
Continued from yesterday
Judges and magistrates should form the right attitude to work. They should sit at the statutory time of 9 a.m. While sitting, they should avoid all loquacity and intemperate language in order not to waste the time of the court. For example, some judges of superior court of record do not sit for many months without any substantial reason. This should not be condoned and disciplinary action should be brought against such judges who have refused to sit. To salvage the Bench from moral degeneracy, the National Judicial Council (NJC) should routinely weed out the dead wood in the Bench
The courts should avoid unnecessary adjournments which may cause delay in adjudication of court cases. Heavy costs should be awarded to penalise unethical lawyers who file unnecessary court processes or make unnecessary submissions that lead to delay in the disposition of cases pending in courts. The Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) should meet regularly to consider the petitions and complaints against erring lawyers and should not hesitate to sanction any erring lawyer appropriately. The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) must not relent in its efforts to rid the Bar and the Bench of unworthy lawyers and judges. Cases pending in court suffering from diligent prosecution should be promptly struck out. Punitive costs should be awarded against lazy lawyers applying for unnecessary adjournments in court. A well-serviced electricity generator should be provided to light up the courts in the event of a general power failure.
Considering that the Supreme Court is bogged down with 6,884 cases, more judges should be appointed to the Supreme Court immediately. Currently there is a shortfall of justices in the Supreme Court. Only 13 Judges are left at the apex court against the 21 judges stipulated in the Constitution. As we had previously maintained, nothing stops the National Judicial Council (NJC) from appointing seasoned legal practitioners, academics or jurists to serve as Justices of the Supreme Court as in the past in order to meet up with the inadequacy of judges in that court. According to the NJC, only 1,179 judges are currently available to preside over the courts across the country with an estimated population of 218 million people. As a result, many cases unnecessarily drag on in the courts with some case files being called up for the first time after many years. Consequently, more judges should be appointed across the country to stem the tide of law cases piling up in our courts. Special courts should be set up to expeditiously handle some cases, like constitutional cases, criminal and corruption cases.
Judicial personnel- court bailiffs, court clerks and registrars, court messengers, court typist etc- who equally play very important roles in the dispensation of justice should also try to discharge their duties diligently. Oftentimes some court bailiffs refuse to effect court processes simply because they were unable to extort money from a litigant or his counsel. There are so many missing case files in our courts today. Many litigants get to court only to discover to their chagrin that their case files have either been misplaced or are completely lost. These are administrative injustices which beget legal injustice or even social injustice. Therefore, the NBA should also focus its searchlight on corrupt and incompetent court personnel. Court registrars indirectly extorting money from litigants and lawyers should be exposed and brought to justice. Lawyers should stop bribing court personnel or acceding to their extortionist bids.
Without a complete overhaul of the country’s criminal justice system, cases against the awaiting-trial-inmates (ATM) languishing in our various correctional centres will continue to linger on in the courts. The Police criminal prosecutors should attend compulsory yearly training in order to update and upgrade them on how to carry out their duties responsibly. Crime investigation must not drag on endlessly. There must be a time frame for crime investigation. Efforts should be made to convey criminal suspects to court on the days they are supposed to appear in court. Endless adjournments at the instance of the police for lack of vital evidence to prosecute the suspects should not be tolerated. Magistrates who lack the jurisdiction to try certain offences like murder charges should not continue to remand suspects in prisons under the cover of “Holden Charge.’’ Oftentimes the delay in the prosecution of criminal suspects results from poor preparation and presentation of cases by the police and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Uncountable charges preferred against some suspects by the EFCC are later dramatically dropped by the same EFCC without genuine reasons. Some of the suspects being publicly paraded by the EFCC are always beaming with smiles with the conviction that they would be let off the hook sooner or later. Therefore, the EFCC should be more diligent in the discharge of its duties.
Dumping of young suspects in prison without trial must stop. More juvenile courts should be established to try young offenders. Suspects who cannot be charged to court within two or three months should be released from detention as stipulated in our Constitution.
Beyond mere lamentation, it is high time all stakeholders sat together to realistically salvage the judiciary from the doldrums of inefficiency, corruption and delay in justice delivery afflicting it over the years. In all these factors, there will be need to address funding as a key element of speeding up justice delivery. But without justice, it will be impossible to promote societal aims. Take away justice from the society and all you will find is open robberies. The judiciary should be insulated from partisan politics. The much-vaunted financial independence should be granted the judiciary in order to fast-track the dispensation of justice. Political office holders should desist from interfering in the work of the judiciary. The executive and government agencies should obey court orders. The country’s democratisation experiment will be aborted if the state which is supposed to be exemplary in obeying the law is willfully disobeying the law. Justice is the essence of the legal system. Justice delayed is justice denied. Fiat justicia ruat coelum (Let justice be done though heaven falls).