It is a legal aphorism that an effective justice system ensures that justice is not just done to parties involved in a matter but must be seen to have been done. Invariably, any process that tampers with the delivery of justice in such a manner that leaves people doubting whether or not justice has been served tends to negate the whole essence of a judicial process.
Recently, the Federal High Court ordered judges across the federation to stop granting ex-parte orders in political cases. Chief Judge of the High Court, Justice Adamu Abdu-Karafati, who gave the directive, said the decision was “to forestall any hiccups and the blame of the court by the political gladiators”.
By its ordinary definition, an ex-parte order or injunction is not intended to be a temporary victory to be used against the other party indefinitely; rather, it is to last for a short period pending the determination of a motion on notice. But politicians, in their determination to subvert the cause of justice for cheap political gains, have given a harmless court order an ulterior meaning.
The result of this is that the judges themselves are often made to take the flak for the misapplication of such orders. It is, therefore, unfortunate that some of the harsh complaints against the judiciary in recent times revolve around the way and manner judges exercise their discretionary powers to grant interlocutory applications to the point that allegations of judges abusing their powers in granting such injunctions have become rife. Of course, such abuse, often times, is ascribed to corruption. Although granting or denying an interlocutory application is at the discretion of the court, it is expected that such an order must be exercised judiciously.
With the manner and pace at which interlocutory applications were hitherto handled by the courts, underhand deals may not be ruled out and these came to have a significant bearing on the outcome of the substantive suits in which such applications were made. Expectedly, the need for judges to exercise their discretion in granting interlocutory applications in a very transparent manner became a clarion call. That ex-parte orders have been stopped altogether did not come as a surprise to many.
In the judicial circle, it is agreed that a frivolous ex-parte order inflicts substantial damage to the process as it has been used to subvert substantial justice. Although ex-parte injunction was proposed with good and laudable intention as a vehicle for the carriage of instant justice in proper cases, there are concerns that it has been repeatedly abused. The fallout of such abuse and its implications on the nation’s political firmaments is too numerous to mention.
For instance, the then military government annulled the June 12, 1993 presidential election on the grounds that it was conducted in contravention of an ex-parte order made in the night by a judge of the Abuja High Court. On June 11, 1993, Justice Bassey Ikpeme made a ruling a few hours to the casting of ballot, ordering the electoral body to stop the conduct of the poll. Also, while election results were being declared, an FCT High Court granted an ex-parte order stopping the process and followed it up with another order declaring the election ‘null and void’. What followed has remained a sad commentary in the nation’s march to democracy.
The recent Federal High Court’s directive might be seen by some as being at variance with the provisions of Order 26 (B) of the Federal High Court Rule 2009, which allows ex-parte motion in civil proceedings. However, we are of the opinion that, under the prevailing circumstances, the order is laudable and deserves commendation.
More than anything else, the directive which is coming on the eve of the 2019 polls, with its heightened political activity, encourages this newspaper to affirm that it will help in no small measure to ease the pressure on the judiciary and also go a long way to ensure that the elections do not suffer unnecessary disruption.
To effectively dispense with political cases in a timely manner, it is our considered view that the judges must resist the temptation to issue frivolous injunctions since some plaintiffs hide under the demand for ex-parte orders to cause needless stalemates through such applications. This, ultimately, leads to delay in the dispensation of justice. It will serve the cause of justice well if everyone concerned ensures full compliance with the directive.
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