The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, yesterday made a stunning revelation on how some lawyers, in their attempt to get the prestigious rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), engage in the forgery of court judgments to qualify for nomination for the rank.
The CJN said the forged judgments were part of the requisite conditions submitted to the Legal Practitioners and Privileges Committee for scrutiny.
Onnoghen who spoke during the opening of the 2018/2019 new legal year of the Supreme Court and the inauguration of new Senior Advocates of Nigeria in Abuja said the case has been reported to the Police for action.
Although he did not make the names of the offending lawyers public, the CJN said they have been reported to Police and are currently under investigation, vowing that the culprits will be prosecuted if found culpable.
He stated: “I have to point out the fact that in the just concluded exercise, some applicants were found to have engaged in dishonourable conduct such as forgery of judgment, resulting in their being reported to the Police for investigation and possible prosecution. We have to know that if one is not for any reason qualified to wear silk as a judicial officer, he cannot wear it as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
“I would like at this point to thank the distinguished members of the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee tasked with this assignment of scrutinizing over 4,000 judgments, trial proceedings and publications, and at the same time conduct disciplinary proceedings on petitions received against Senior Advocates of Nigeria”.
The CJN urged those in power not to loss sight of the indispensable role of the judiciary in the fight against corruption, adding that the fight against corruption is not the responsibility of any particular arm of government but that of every citizen of Nigeria.
According to him, corruption or any other form of injustice thrives in a culture of impunity, and to carry out a successful campaign against corruption, Nigerians must fight with the culture of impunity, which is an attitudinal phenomenon.
Justice Onnoghen said, “If we allow and respect the rule of law, then there will be a drastic reduction in corruption and injustice.
As a democracy, occasion is guided by the rule of law where the constitution is the grand norm. And let me quickly add that there is no ambiguity as regards the role of the judiciary in our constitution”.
He assured that the Supreme Court will continue to remain at the vanguard of the protection of democracy, human rights, rule of law and expeditious dispensation of justice.
Also speaking at the occasion, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), appealed to judges to brace up to challenges that would come their ways before, during and after the forthcoming general election.
Malami said as part of efforts to make the judiciary truly independent, President Muhammadu Buhari has assented to the constitutional amendment, which now makes monies due to the judiciary in the annual budget to be paid directly to the Heads of courts as part of efforts to answer the needs of the judiciary.
Executive, Judiciary At War Over Judges’ Vacation
Meanwhile, the executive and the legislative arms of government yesterday engaged in a verbal war over the propriety or otherwise of the two-month annual vacation embarked on by judges.
The executive urged the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen to review the judges’ two-month annual vacation, saying it is hurting justice delivery system in the country.
But the CJN disagreed with the Attorney General of the federation and the Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) who stated the federal government’s position.
Onnoghen said lawyers who ordinarily don’t go on holiday on their own except when judges proceeded on vacations would also be affected, adding that some of the lawyers were dropping dead frequently until the vacation system was introduced.
In his speech delivered on his behalf by the Solicitor General of the Federation, Dayo Akpata, AGF Malami urged the judiciary to take a second look at the current system of its annual vacation, saying it is anachronistic to quick dispensation of cases in courts.
Speaking at the Special Session of the Supreme Court to mark the beginning of the 2018/2019 Legal Year as well as the swearing-in of newly appointed SANs at the Supreme Court Complex, Malami insisted that the current judges’ annual vacation system does not only lead to total shutting down of the entire judicial arm but also contributes to delay of cases in the courts.
He said the judges should not be mindful of the fact that they equally enjoy other holidays in the society, which further causes delay of cases in court.
Malami urged the CJN to take a cursory look at the way judges’ vacations are staggered in other jurisdictions or climes, saying that of Nigeria need to be reviewed in order to mitigate the ordeal of litigants in court.
He sated: “Permit me at this stage to respectively proffer the suggestion that it may be time for our judiciary to take a second look at the current system of its annual vacation.
“While the practice of a two months-plus Annual Vacation is historical and has become part of our judicial system, it would appear that several litigants and persons outside the legal system increasingly see this practice as a contributory factor to the delay of cases in our courts.
“In their estimation, it amounts to practically shutting down the entire judicial arm for such a long time, every year, in addition to the other public holidays which are also applicable to the judiciary.
“While courts have historically tried to address these concerns through the use of vacation judges, we all know that vacation judges have their limitations. I am aware that in some jurisdictions, the practice of staggered vacations is increasingly being employed as a strategy to balance the need for rest and the avoidance of a total shutdown of the judiciary for such an extended period.
“My lords, I proffer this opinion confident of the capacity of the judicial arm to constantly renew and transform itself through a periodic review of its systems and processes. I hope my suggestion will therefore be treated as an input to that internal process’’.
But the CJN asked Malami to think it all over again, saying it was the second time the AGF was calling for the scrapping of the judges’ two-month annual vacation.
He said he met with the AGF after he mentioned the topic last time to intimate him of the consequences of stopping that vacation.
Onnoghen told the AGF to go ahead and scrap the vacation if that is what he wanted, saying it is not only the judges that would suffer the consequences.
He added that lawyers who ordinarily don’t go on holiday on their own except when judges proceed on vacations would also be affected.
The CJN who replied the AGF after the end of the court session said, “This is very usual moment’’, meaning it is not in the tradition of the court session to reply the AGF.
He continued: “This is the second time he has mentioned this here. I had to talk to him after he said same here, informing him of the consequences of doing away with the judges’ two-month annual vacation.
“The lawyers don’t go on holiday and that was why some of them were dropping dead frequently until this vacation system was introduced. Besides, the judicial officers are increasingly over worked in the country. I want him to think over it again. But if he wants it scrap or change it, he can go ahead”.
While reviewing the 2017/2018 Legal Year, the CJN said in the course of the 2017/2018 legal year, the Supreme Court considered a total number of 1,540 matters comprising motions, appeals and judgments.
He said, “Under motions, we heard 824 civil and 273 criminal motions, totaling 1097. The Court also considered a total number of 438 appeals comprising 246 Civil, and 192 Criminal.
“A total of 297 Judgments were delivered by the close of the 2017/2018 legal year. This is by all means an impressive report considering the persistent and increasing volume of cases that continue to come before this Court. I attribute this impressive performance to the hard work of judicial officers, support staff and the reforms we are implementing to improve justice delivery’’.
On judiciary’s fight against corruption, the CJN said just as he had mentioned in his speech last year, an Anti-Corruption Cases Trial Monitoring Committee (COTRIMCO) was constituted under the Chairmanship of former Supreme Court justice, Justice Suleiman Galadima.
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