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August 19, 2018

THE BAR AND THE BENCH UNDER SCRUTINY (3)

The Emergence and Proscription of the Indigenous People of Biafra
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In accordance with the strictures of the constitution, the appointment of State High Court Chief Judges are in the hands of governors at the recommendation of the NJC subject to the confirmation by the State House of Assembly.

The constitution provides generally that a person shall not be qualified to hold the office of head of the respective courts unless he is qualified to practice as a legal practitioner in Nigeria and has been so qualified for at least ten years for a high court

In the NJC Guidelines and Procedural Rules for the Appointment Judicial Officers of All Superior Courts of Record in Nigeria, Rule 4 (i) (a) provides for the candidates seeking to be appointed judicial officers must have:

  1. a) Good character and reputation, diligence and hard work, honesty, integrity and sound knowledge of law and consistent adherence to professional ethics.

The appointment of judges, which is to be initiated by the Federal or State Judicial Service Committees, also requires that the candidate must have the following criteria:

  1. b) Active, successful practice at the Bar, including satisfactory presentation of cases in court as legal practitioner either in private or as a legal officer in any public service;
  2. c) Satisfactory and consistent display of sound and mature judgment in the office of as a Chief Registrar or Chief Magistrate;
  3. d) Credible record of teaching law, legal research in a reputable university and publication of legal works, and in addition to any or all the above.

In Rule 5, it states that upon compliance with Rules 1-4 of these rules, the Chairman of the Judicial Service Commission/Committee shall advice, or as the case may be, recommend to the National Judicial Council by a memorandum which shall conclude with a clear declaration that the NJC Guidelines and Procedural Rules have been complied with strictly and fully.

Rule 6 further emphasizes that: 1) Every candidate /judge, justice/chief judge/legal practitioner, who has been shortlisted shall undergo interview to be conducted by the NJC to ascertain his or her suitability for the judicial office.

2) The mode of interview shall be determined by the council.

3) The result of the interview shall form a major part of the decision on the candidate’s suitability for the judicial office for which he or she has been interviewed.

4) A candidate who is unsuccessful at the interview shall not be recommended for appointment by the council.

5) A candidate once rejected on the ground stated in Rule 4(4) (ii) shall not be re-presented to the council for at least another two years or any such period as the council may direct.

Inspite of these good intentions and the grave position of NJC, the appointment of Judicial officers remain clouded in secrecy and highly politicized. The vacancy in the positions are not advertised , which should not be the case. Indeed it is recommended that intending judicial officers should write exams and go through interviews that determine their real character and suitability for such elevated office.

The case is often mentioned of a very junior lawyer who was newly appointed as a magistrate in Imo state over and above senior attorneys who decidedly informed a stunned audience of lawyers of the ‘postponement’ of a case to a latter date. It is inappropriate that a judicial officer should struggle with rudimentary principles of law in an open court.

In America the appointment of Judges are often tainted by political affiliations as a party in power often wants to influence the bench. Judges may also be nominated by the legislature and by groups such as the NBA. Individuals may also nominate theirselves. What is however important is that those nominated and appointed as Judges should go through a credible selection process. The most important quality a judge need possess is learning and all other things can be added unto him. It is also important that a Judge should not be corrupt and should give credence to the weight of evidence. By chance I was influenced to read law by Justice Mansfield who set a Slave free . Such an awesome power to do Justice should not be perverted by a judge under any circumstances and only morally upright persons with keen senses for justice should be appointed.

In Imo state, nominations for the growing vacancies for Judges and magistrates should be welcomed from The SJC, the NBA, the Legislature, and the Government but only the best should be selected through a credible process.

In conclusion, with respect to the saying, that Justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done, one of the processes for checking interest and corruption in a case which a judge/margistrate is trying is to ensure that registrars rather than Judges assign cases to the Judges and magistrates in a Judiciary.

In any case, presently, the practice in Imo state, whereby an administrative Judge and or magistrate can assign cases to himself is inappropriate. Why is that so? Indeed, there cannot be anything less than an implied interest in such cases.

 


 

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