The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen, has warned against unguarded comments on matters before courts with specific reference to issues concerning the Anambra central senatorial district dispute.
The CJN said commenting on matters before the court is a contempt of court which may attract punishment.
In a statement issued in Abuja by his special assistant on Media, Awassam Bassy, Onnoghen appealed to litigants, advocates and the public to refrain from making unsubstantiated and malicious allegations and complaints against judicial officers.
He added that Judges might consider invoking their inherent power of contempt where there are clear violations or infractions in respect of matters that are subjudice.
Justice Onnoghen admonished parties and the general public to use only lawful means in the pursuit of remedies for their real and imagined grievances.
He, therefore, reminded the public to always embrace rule of law as an only solution to the country’s problem.
Part of the statement reads: “The attention of the Honourable, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), His Lordship Mr Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, GCON, has been drawn to the emerging and continued practice of discussions of matters that are subjudice in the print and electronic media, such as the issues concerning the Anambra State central senatorial district dispute.
“The CJN wishes to remind the general public that it is contempt of court for anyone to discuss any matter pending in any court of law in the country. The punishment for contempt may include a term of imprisonment.
“To make matters worse, in such discourse, the language being used in describing the judgments of the courts is not only ungentlemanly, degrading and contemptuous, but amounts to uncharitable insults which should not be encouraged in any decent democracy.”
The statement further stated, “It’s in the light of the above that the Hon. CJN continues to encourage parties and the general public to use only lawful means in the pursuit of remedies for their real and imagined grievances.
“The CJN reiterates his appeal to litigants, advocates and the public to refrain from making unsubstantiated and malicious allegations and complaints against judicial officers, and reminds Judges to consider invoking their inherent power of contempt where there are clear violations or infractions in respect of matters that are subjudice.
“The Hon. CJN, once again, assures Nigerians that the Judiciary of this great nation remains committed in the discharge of its responsibilities in line with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria without fear or favour; affection or ill-will.”
The Hon. CJN ends his admonition by referring the public to the case of Attorney-General vs Times Newspapers Ltd (1973) 3 All ER 54 at 65 (1973) 3 WLR 298, where Lord Reid opined thus:
“I think that anything in the nature of prejudgment of a case or of specific issues in it is objectionable not only because of its possible effect on that particular case but also because of its side effects which may be far reaching. Responsible ‘mass media’ will do their best to be fair, but there will also be ill-informed, slapdash or prejudiced attempts to influence the public. If people are led to think that it is easy to find the truth, disrespect for the processes of the law could follow and, if mass media are allowed to judge, unpopular people and unpopular causes will fare very badly. Most cases of prejudging of issues fall within the existing authorities on contempt. I do not think that the freedom of the press would suffer, and I think that the law would be clearer and easier to apply in practice if it is made a general rule that it is not permissible to prejudge issues in pending cases.”
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