The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen, has cautioned judges against dishing out “reckless” remand orders to the police.
Onnoghen admitted the urgent need for a thorough and comprehensive reform of the justice sector to curb unnecessary delays and ensure access to justice at affordable costs.
At yesterday’s opening ceremony of the 2018 All Nigerian Judges’ Conference of the Lower Courts at the National Judicial Institute (NJI) Abuja, the CJN warned that judges must not issue remand orders in cases where the police lack evidence to sustain criminal allegations, or where the court does not have the requisite jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
Justice Onnoghen also decried the level of congestion in the country’s prisons, describing it as a “national embarrassment.”
He said: “On the issue of prison decongestion, it is a scenario which has become a national embarrassment. The numerous and sometimes needless remand orders issued by magistrates is a major factor responsible for the congestion of our prisons.
“I must stress at this forum, the need for heads of courts, in synergy with the various attorneys-general of the states, to pay frequent visits to prison facilities within their jurisdiction in a bid to assess the situation on a first hand basis.
“In addition, reckless remand orders must not be issued by your courts where it appears that the police lack evidence to prosecute a criminal matter or your courts do not possess the requisite jurisdiction to entertain such matters.
“I had recently also directed that chief magistrates/magistrates should pay frequent visits to police stations within their jurisdictions to inspect the cells and where appropriate free detainees when no prima facie case against them has been established or had been unduly detained without bail,” he said.
Onnoghen said that the federal judiciary enjoys financial independence, but lamented that the situation was different in the states.
The CJN said: “The funding of the judiciary is crucial because it is the most important index for assessing its independence.
“It is clear that the litmus test to determine how free and democratic any nation is would be to take a cursory look at its judiciary, to find out if the Executive arm of government is prepared to obey the principle of separation of powers.
“The judiciary is a vital partner in governance. The complete and real independence of the judiciary is thus a reflection of the nation and of freedom,” he said.
In her welcome address, the NJI administrator, Justice Roseline P. I. Bozimo, said that the conference was a stocktaking event for judges of the lower courts in the country.
The biennial event with the theme: “Improving the quality of justice administration in the lower courts”, according to Boximo, was timely, considering the role the lower courts play in the legal system.
She posited that the judiciary can only grow when and if it embarked on continuous reforms to uphold and protect the rights of Nigerians.
Justice Bozimo vowed to tackle the challenges facing the judiciary to ensure its optimum performance.