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Lawyers’ Views Over Supreme Court Backlog Of Cases

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Professor Itse Sagay (SAN)

Sagay is the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption chairman,

“The situation is highly embarrassing and disturbing for the hardship litigants are subjected as they are made to suspend their legal rights or forfeiting same. Current system that allows automatic right of appeal in all matters to Supreme Court has to be reviewed. The interlocutory appeals has to be taken together with main matter rather allowing appeals separately on it to the apex court.

‘’Appeal on subject matters permissible to lie at the Supreme Court has to be reviewed. We need not allow appeals on torts, matrimonial causes and commercial cases to lie at the apex court, they can terminate at the Court of Appeal. But appeals on constitutional, human rights, criminal matters involving death sentence or life imprisonment can lie at the apex court’’

Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN)

Ngige is a 2012 Nigerian Bar Association Presidential Election Contestant

‘I have in the past made suggestions on this issue. Firstly, there should be full compliments of justices on board. As at date we have about 15 out of 21 seats constitutionally available. All the vacant seats in the apex court should be filed up forthwith. Secondly, the Nigerian constitution should be further amended to allow for the appointment of adhoc justices so as to allow retired justices and erudite senior advocates to be invited from time to time to help decongest the court. In UK, her Constitutional Reform Act 2005 has a provision for acting judges to be appointed from a pool of judges of lower courts or of retired jurists referred to as ‘supplementary panel’ to sit with the regular justices if the need arises . If we have similar provisions here, I can assure you that the backlog of appeals in the Supreme Court will be cleared within 2 years. The third suggestion is that the registry of the Supreme Court should be thoroughly reorganized. The Federal Judicial Service Commission should get one or two of the reputable auditing firms like Arthur Andersen or PWC to help recruit staff that will man the registry of the apex court. The crop of personnel there lacks the capacity to cope with the challenges of court administration. How can we continue to hear that filed court documents or processes are missing thereby leading to frequent adjournment of appeals’’.

Professor Ernest Ojukwu (SAN)

Ojukwu is the immediate past Deputy Director-General and Head of Campus of the Nigerian Law School, Augustine Nnamani Campus, Agbani Enugu, and also a 2018 Nigerian Bar Association Presidential Election Contestant

‘’The Statement of the CJN on closed diary for hearing appeals in the Supreme Court is the clearest testimony of Nigeria’s failed judicial process and dispute resolution. It is also a sign of a failed legal profession and a failed state. There are seven solutions – 1) Constitutional amendment that caps the kind of cases that can go up to the Supreme Court. 2) Establish an Apex court for states like a Court of Appeal for each State. 3) Appoint more justices of the Supreme Court up to the number prescribed by law. 4) Change our legal education to justice education to develop lawyers that respond to true issues of access to justice as a responsibility, and 5) Address the perennial infamous conduct of lawyers who use our legal system and procedure to abuse the legal system with frivolous litigation and appeals. 6) Encourage ADR and 7) Change the Rules for the appointment of SANs that encourages the use of large quantity of litigation for qualification for the privilege’’.

Professor Yemi Akinseye-George (SAN)

Akinseye-George is a professor of public law and president of the Center for Socio-Legal Studies

‘’honestly, this matter requires serious research and comparative study. The CJN should set up a study group consisting of judges, practitioners and academics to prepare a well-researched paper of this subject.’’

Professor Chidi Odinkalu

Odinkalu is a former Lecturer in Laws at Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, as well as a former chairman of the Governing Council of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission.

‘’Sam Amadi and I addressed some of the relevant issues in our joint article titled ‘Killing the Supreme Court’ published over 14 years ago.

Is the Nigerian Supreme Court healthy? The Court is facing a worrying carcasses of Justices able to take a valediction and retire with their full faculties at the compulsory retirement age of 70. Of four of its members that have left the Court in the past 15 months, two are dead and one is critically unwell. Justice Okey Achike, who was due to retire on 23 December 2002, was forced into early retirement from the Court in August 2002. He died in August 2003. Justice Achike was too ill to take part in his valedictory session in September 2002. On 23 December 2003, Justice Ekundayo Ogundare similarly passed on. He was reportedly undergoing medical treatment for ill health in the United Kingdom. He too did not live long enough to see his valediction. Justice Obioma Ogwuegbu who retired from the Court in April 2003 was narrowly spared a similar fate by what he described at his own valedictory session in April 2003 as a “medical miracle.”

Valentine Offia

Offia is and Abuja base Legal Practitioner

‘’The Supreme Court is overburdened because of our Constitution.  Any legal system that cannot determined a dispute speedily is dysfunctional. No legal dispute is determined until the final court, which is the Supreme Court, pronounces on it. It is a serious problem, therefore, when the diary of the Supreme Court cannot accommodate cases for years. The problem is our Constitution has allowed access to the Supreme Court to every litigant even when the case of the litigant has no national significance. For example, why should the Supreme Court determine appeals on disputes over who is the monarch of a village in Nigeria? Such an issue is usually regulated by State law and has no trans – State significance.  Yet, such disputes are allowed to be litigated upon all the way to the Supreme Court.  We need to amend the Constitution to establish Supreme Courts for each State where such disputes will abate. This will quicken the delivery of justice and avoid the clog which is the consequence of having twenty judges of the Supreme Court of Nigeria determine every dispute in Nigeria – a very flawed paradigm’’.

MUKTAR ABANIKA

Abanika is an Abuja base Legal Practitioner

‘’Appeals should not be automatic but by leave of court in order reducing inflow of appeals. Only cases that raise constitutional issues or point of law should be appealed to the apex court as practiced in USA, where they don’t sit on appeals more than 100 a year. If restrictions are so applied then, what now comes to the apex court can change law. Too many appeals lead to confusion in the law and frequent revision of the law’’.





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