For the umpteenth time, Chief Justice of Nigeria Olukayode Ariwoola has urged judges to overcome “mob mentality” in dispensing justice.
He also reiterated that public opinion and emotions can never take the place of the law in deciding the cases.
CJN Ariwoola spoke Monday at the opening of the special session of the 2023/2024 legal year and the swearing-in of 58 newly appointed Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), in Abuja.
Early last month, the CJN, had while swearing in some 23 new judges said: “Several vitriolic attacks are regularly heaped on the judiciary; it is, however, crystal clear that public opinions, no matter how serious or weighty it might be, cannot override or supersede the constitution of the country which we apply in deciding each case.”
Reiterating his position during the special session of the 2023/2024/Legal year, Ariwoola urged all judges to always “discharge all judicial functions with all the humility at your command.”
“I expect every judicial officer to work very hard and also be very honest and courteous to the litigants, witnesses and members of the bar, and discharge all your judicial functions with all the humility at your command.
“Even while doing this, it is still necessary to have at the back of your minds that public opinions, sentiments or emotions, can never take the place of the law in deciding the cases that come before you.
“The law remains the law, no matter whose interest is involved. In all we do, as interpreters of the law, we should endeavour to severe the strings of emotion from logic and assumption from fact.
“We should never be overwhelmed by the actions or loud voices of the mob or crowd and now begin to confuse law with sentiment or something else in deciding our cases.
“Nevertheless, unnecessary and unwarranted utterances are bound to embarrass not only others, but the Judge himself; thus what should be asked, should be asked, and what should not be asked, should be avoided,” added the CJN.
He urged the judges to make books their armour and not be afraid of venturing into “unchartered territories”, adding it is through this that they “confront the headwinds of ignorance, conservatism and stagnation.”
“I therefore, advise all judicial officers serving in our jurisdiction to make books their armour and hard work their armaments to confront the headwinds of ignorance, conservatism and stagnation.
“It is imperative to know that the world we are only remembers those who lead from the front and set trends for others to emulate,” the CJN further said.
…On Constitution reform/S’Court cases
While seeking an amendment to the Nigerian Constitution to end most cases at the appellate court, the CJN said: “I have made it clear at different occasions that it is not every dispute that must find its way to the court, and it is not every matter that must come up to the Supreme Court on appeal.”
He said: “Our laws have to be amended to make most appeals end at the Court of Appeal,” saying the appellate court is competent to adjudicate on all cases.
Ariwoola also urged Nigerians to embrace more of alternative dispute-resolution mechanisms and less of litigation.
In a breakdown of cases decided and those pending at the apex court, the CJN said a total of 1,271 appeals and motions were filed in the outgone year.
Out of these, he said, “we heard 388 political appeals, 215 criminal appeals, and 464 civil appeals. Similarly, the court considered a total number of 49 criminal motions, 153 civil motions, and two political motions.”
Between September 2022 and July 2023, he said the Supreme Court delivered a total number of 251 judgements.
“Out of these, 125 were political appeals, 81 were civil appeals and 45 were criminal appeals. Within the period under review (precisely 10 months’ duration), a total number of 91 Rulings were delivered by the Honourable Court,” Ariwoola said.
He also vowed to leave a legacy of having 11 more justices to the Supreme Court to achieve the unprecedented full complement of 21 justices.
…On corrupt judges
While describing integrity as an essential quality of a judicial officer, the CJN urged judges to demonstrate “the standards of integrity, morality, and good behaviour” in the discharge of their duties.
“In a situation where a judge decides a case wrongly out of motives, it shakes the faith of the litigant public; and by extension, the whole society,” he noted.
The CJn , who said a corrupt judge “has no right to continue to occupy the chair as a judicial officer,” further called on judges to “lead a disciplined and principled lifestyle that will enhance their trust and integrity quotient.”
…AGF, others’ remarks
Also in his remarks, Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), advised the National Judicial Council (NJC) to quicken the process of filling the vacancies at the Supreme Court.
He expressed President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s “readiness to implement judicial reforms with the cooperation of the judiciary.
“We, therefore, earnestly await the judiciary to set the ball rolling to enable the other arms to play their part in this critical aspect of nation-building.”
Fagbemi urged the lawyers to assist the courts in justice dispensation.
In its speech, the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN), represented by Ebun Sofunde (SAN), told the gathering that Nigerians were fast losing hope in the capacity of the judiciary to deliver justice timeously.
He said: “Law enforcement agents now fill the void created by inefficient judicial system.
“When judges are overwhelmed by work burden, they see adjudication of cases as perfunctory.”
Sofunde, who said excessive workload on judges was negatively impacting the quality of decisions emanating from the courts, cautioned that citizens’ loss of confidence in the justice system could breed anarchy.
The BOSAN representative advised the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC), a body saddled with the conferment of the rank of SAN, to review its criteria in terms of the number of concluded cases prospective silk could have before applying for seeking for the prestigious rank.
He specifically pointed out that the criterion concerning the number of cases to be filed by SAN applicants brings the courts under pressure, with lawyers filing frivolous suits that often end up clogging the courts’ dockets.
While advising the new silks to be of good conduct, Sofunde said the latest guidelines of the LPPC do not permit restoration of the SAN rank once withdrawn for violation of the rules. (Blueprint)