Abuja — The Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, Wednesday, blamed the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN, for unwittingly contributing to undue delay in the prosecution of high profile cases of corruption in the country.
The CJN who stated this on a day she administered oath on 25 new Senior Advocates of Nigeria, insisted that "the courts cannot on their own prosecute criminal cases," noting that "on the streets of Nigeria and beyond, the cry for justice lingers."
25 new SANs
According to the CJN, "the administration of justice is not confined to the courts; it encompasses officers of the law and others whose duties are necessary to ensure that the courts function effectively."
Besides, Justice Mukhtar who equally used the occasion to flag-off the 2012/2013 legal year of the Supreme Court, stressed that "the society can operate under the rule of law only if laws are administered fairly, rationally, consistently, impartially and devoid of any improper influences that may be inconsistent with each of these objectives," adding "without judicial independence, there can be no preservation of democratic values."
She said: "the prison system for instance presents a horrific state that calls for urgent attention. There are presently an estimated number of 40, 000 prisoners in Nigeria with about two thirds of this population not convicted. Perhaps the Amnesty International is correct for laying blame on the Nigerian judiciary. Unnecessary adjournments of cases along with the attendant ills of the courts to ensure that inmates are tried within a reasonable time, comes into play here.
40,000 prisoners in Nigeria
"Interestingly, administration of justice, with particular reference to criminal law, is a compendious term that stands for all the complexes of activities that operate to bring the substantive law of crime to bear, or to keep it from coming to bear, on persons who are suspected of having committed crimes.
"It refers to the rules of law that govern the detection, investigation, apprehension, prosecution and trial of persons suspected of crime and those persons whose responsibility it is to work within the rules.
"The administration of justice is not confined to the courts; it encompasses officers of the law and others whose duties are necessary to ensure that the courts function effectively.
"The constitution provides that the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, as the Chief law officer of the Federation has the power to institute, undertake, take-over, continue or discontinue criminal proceedings before the courts of law in Nigeria in respect of offences created under any Act of the National Assembly.
"It, therefore, follows that the courts cannot on their own prosecute criminal cases, there must be the willingness of all prosecuting agencies to prosecute cases brought before our courts, especially high profile cases of corruption and all others.
"I am not unaware of the challenges but let me mention here that the efforts of some State administration aimed at introducing alternative punitive measures as a way of prison decongestion is commendable. Community Service, non-custodian sentences and probation as they operate in a host of other countries have been suggested by different quarters. An implementation of these policies will no doubt be of great benefit to the government and the society at large.
"Efforts will also be made in the new legal year and again in the course of my headship of the Nigerian Judiciary to ensure speedy disposal of cases in our courts at all level. Slow delivery of justice is one salient area that concerted efforts will be devoted to," the CJN added.
More so, she lamented that one of the major problems confronting administration of justice in Nigeria was inadequate funding for the judiciary, particularly at the state level, saying "it is regrettable that some State Executives treat the judiciary as an appendage of the executive arm."
Noting that judges at the state level are "at the mercy of the state executives and politicians," the CJN, maintained that section 121(3) of the Constitution provides that "any amount standing to the credit of the judiciary in the consolidated Revenue Fund of the state shall be paid directly to the heads of the courts concerned.
"Unlike the Federal judiciary that enjoys 90 per cent of financial independence, inadequate funding and inaccessibility to funds appropriated to states' judiciary in the budget, is the bane of administration of justice in the Federation," the CJN said.
Meantime, the AGF, who was visibly unsettled with the CJN's address, in his own speech, insisted that prominent among the challenges facing the judiciary in the discharge of its duties, includes the "declining ethical standards and indiscipline at the Bar."
He said: "it is a matter of deep regret that lawyers, including some Senior Advocates routinely engage in unwholesome practices unbecoming of members of this noble profession.
"Today, lawyers are accused of deliberately misleading clients on the strength of their cases with a view to appropriating unearned professional fees; tampering with clients' money; criticizing judges in the media even where it is clear that they have not read their judgments in order to determine the reasoning of the Court and commenting on matters that are sub-judice.
"There are matters that were completely unheard in the profession some few years back and where such misconduct was reported, it drew condemnation and appropriate sanctions.
"You will recall that at our recently concluded Bar Conference, I stressed the need for us to reclaim our profession and to show the bad eggs amongst us the way out of the profession. I wish to reiterate that call again and to urge the leadership of the Bar to put the issue of professional ethics and discipline on the front banner."
While tasking the new SANs on integrity, Adoke, said the occasion was an opportunity for the judiciary "to reflect on the true significance of the rank of SAN," noting that "in popular discourse within and outside the profession, there is a palpable feeling/perception that the rank is a passport to fame, personal riches and comfort.
"To others, the rank is a licence to command fat fees, open doors and prominence bordering sometimes on arrogance. It is a matter of regret that these negative perceptions of the rank have engendered resentment from our colleagues who are yet to be similarly recognized and honoured."
It would be recalled that a total of 125 legal practitioners and academicians applied for the rank of SAN, out of which 71 of them were found to have satisfied the basic criteria for the conferment.
However, at the end of a thorough screening exercise, the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee, LPPC, selected only 25 applicants, among who were Lagos based human rights lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, EFCC prosecutor, Rotimi Jacobs and Paul C. Ananaba.