Adedipe: If a judge manifests corrupt tendencies remove him
Ifedayo Adedipe is a Port Harcourt based Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). In this interview with ANN GODWIN, he spoke on the need for the executive and legislature to give the judiciary a free hand to operate.
What do you think should be the focus of the new Chief Justice?
In the perception of members of the public, the Judiciary is seen as corrupt and inefficient, and this should attract the attention of any well-meaning judicial officer, including the Chief Justice of Nigeria. If the CJN decides to address issues militating against a corrupt free judiciary, I think he is on the right track, but it will require the cooperation of the executive. This is because without the executive giving him free hand to operate, there might be challenges. For instance, the meddlesomeness of the Department of State Security (DSS) in judicial matters under the guise of investigating corruption has a very negative effect on psyche of Judges. You do not do that kind of thing and expect the Judiciary to be fearless.
Besides, the judiciary relying on the executive’s goodwill to fund its activities is not particularly a good thing, because if the judiciary is starved of funds, the moral of judges and judicial officers will be very low. That in turn will have a negative impact on their output, so that area should be looked into.
When everyone talks about corruption in the judicial system, we have to be very clear. Who are these corrupt people that we are talking about? Is it the judges or the judicial workers, like the clerk, the registrar or the lawyers? We need to understand this very clearly, because whenever people talk about corruption in the judiciary, the tendency to focus on the judges is quite high, which is very wrong. More often, the delay in administration of justice is as a result of administrative lapses, the failure to send hearing notices, the failure to serve processes, failure to make files available etc. So, when you talk about reducing corruption in the judiciary, you should take a holistic look at what I have just said and see how we can correct them.
What exactly is required to ensure effective and faster dispensation of justice?
For effective administration of justice in Nigeria, you simply have to be modern; the idea of judges writing long hand, as if we are still in the 16th century does not help matters. We need to go digital, like voice recording, so that the judges will sit and listen instead of writing and writing for hours.
Then the number of cases that go to open court for trial should be limited, there are some matters that could be handled administratively at registrar’s level, so that what goes to the judges for trial and hearing are limited. Then the number of interlocutory appeal from the High Court to Court of Appeal, to Supreme Court should be discouraged. A situation where someone is asking for enlargement of term, someone opposes and that becomes subject of stay of proceeding, and it goes all the way to Supreme Court, staying up to 10 to 15 years, is not in anybody’s interest. These areas of the law should be looked at and a more modern way of the law to dispense justice should be adopted. We should understudy how they do it elsewhere like in the United States of America whose style of Judiciary we copy. We can understudy that and bring it down here with some modifications.
Another area is how to discipline lawyers who make themselves available for thwarting the administration of justice. Some lawyers are in the habit of throwing spanner into the wheel of administration of justice. Such lawyers ought to be tried, punished and made to know that they are workers in the temple of justice and that the role they play will have an impact in the administration of justice. For instance, when lawyers file curious papers and at the end of the day, you find out that those things are not necessary. Also, lawyers who file an appeal that have no merit should be made to pay the legal fees of the opponent to discourage needless appeals.
What do you think encourages this kind of impunity among lawyers?
It is the lack of sanction that encourages impunity among lawyers. Also, lack of modernisation has cost the nation a lot. It has delayed justice, if you have a system in place, no lawyer will say, he is not going to be bound by it. If a lawyer knows that his processes is needless, curious and that it would be dismissed at the end of the day and be made to pay, most lawyers will refuse to be used at that point. But if all you do is to dismiss a motion and award a N10, 000 cost, the man will spend five years tying you down in just a case
The Federal Government should hands off the judiciary and allow it to correct itself. It is the least corrupt among all the arms of government. The judiciary is the only arm that regularly assesses its members and sanctions them, so government should give them free hand.