A suit has been instituted against the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Muhammad Tanko, and the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court over the re-introduction of Default Filing Fees in Fundamental Human Rights actions at all Federal High Courts.
The action, with Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/1645/2021 is between an Abuja-based legal practitioner, Chibuzor Theddaus Obiajunwa Esq and the Chief Justice of Nigeria and the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court.
The suit in which the CJN is a nominal party is challenging the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court over the Practice Directions he made for the payment of default fees in Fundamental Rights proceedings on the October 26, 2021.
The matter was instituted at the Federal High Court, Abuja Judicial Division on December 30, 2021.
The Federal High Court had in a Practice Direction dated October 26, 2021 signed by Chief Judge of the Court, Hon. Justice John Tsoho, directed that, “Any process filed outside the time provided for in the Fundamental Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules, 2009, shall be liable to default fees as provided in Order 48 Rule 4 of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2019.
“And the directive in the circular letter issued by this Court on the 12th day of February, 2021 exempting the payment of default February on late filing of processes in Fundamental Rights applications is hereby rescinded.”
The Chief Judge noted that the directive is pursuant to the powers conferred on him by Order 57 Rule 3 of the Federal High Court (Civil Procedure) Rules 2019.
The effect of the Practice Direction was that litigants who for any reason were out of time to file any court process at the Federal High Court in Fundamental Human Rights Cases would now pay N1,000 for every day that they were out of time, whereas this had not been the case under the 1999 Constitution and the Fundamental Human Rights (Enforcement Procedure) Rules made by the CJN to cover all High Courts and the National Industrial Court.
However, in the suit filed on Thursday by Originating Summons, the Plaintiff is challenging the power of the Federal High Court Chief Judge to issue such a directive.
The Plaintiff wants the Federal High Court to declare that by the clear letters of the Constitution, the making of all rules covering Fundamental Human Rights is the exclusive preserve of the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
The Plaintiff also wants an Order of the Court setting aside the subject matter, Practice Directions for being unconstitutional and inimical to public access to justice.
By that suit, the Plaintiff also wants an Order of the Court on the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court to refund all monies that had been paid into its registries as Penalties under the Practice Direction within 7 days from the date of the Order.
The suit is yet to be given a date for hearing.