The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Samuel Onnoghen said on Monday that plans to set up special courts to try cases relating to corruption and money laundering offences, were in the offing.
Justice Onnoghen stated this at a special session of the Supreme Court of Nigeria to mark the commencement of the 2017/2018 Legal Year and the swearing-in of 29 new Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) in Abuja.
Onnoghen said part of efforts to ensure successful war against corruption entails the creation of special courts designated to handle corruption cases.
He therefore directed Heads of Courts in the country to compile and forward to the National Judicial Council (NJC) comprehensive lists of all corruption and financial crime cases being handled by their various courts.
To make the corruption war total and to address the issue of alleged involvement of Judgesin bribery, the CJN further announced that the NJC will constitute an Anti-Corruption Cases Trial Monitoring Committee (ACTMC) at its 88th meeting to be saddled with the responsibility of ensuring that both Trial and Appellate Courts handling corruption and financial crime cases key into and abide by the renewed efforts at ridding the country of the cankerworm of corruption.
Onnoghen reiterated his earlier resolved to leave a lasting legacy in the judiciary sector by pursuing relevant reforms that will Reposition judiciary in the country. “Upon my assumption of office as the Chief Justice of Nigeria, my primary concern was, and still is, amongst others, to ensure a progressive upgrade of the judiciary especially in areas of administration, practice directions, ensuring the independence of the judiciary and contributing significantly to the fight against corruption.
“I am therefore committed to ensuring that these developments are brought to fruition through concerted effort”, he said.
He warned against what he described as flagrant disobedience to court orders, saying such actions are a recipe for the breakdown of law and order in the country.
He appealed to all to respect and comply with judgment and decisions of court to avoid throwing the country into a state anarchy, adding that any attempt to tamper with valid court order should be condemned by all.
“Again, the pronouncements of every court ought to be firmly enforced and complied with, without exception unless such order/pronouncement is varied by proper judicial means. It is therefore important to note that any attempt of apparent refusal by certain parties to comply with valid court judgments and pronouncements must be condemned.
“Disobedience of or non-compliance with judicial orders is a recipe for breakdown of law and order. Such developments are at variance with the principles and tenets of the rule of law in a democratic government”, he said.
On the corruption war,
On the issue of delay in the dispensation of justice, the CJN further ordered all Heads of Courts to clamp down on both Prosecution and Defence Counsel who indulge in the unethical practice of deploying delay tactics to stall criminal trials.
Henceforth, they are to report cases of unnecessary delays to the National Judicial Council which in turn, would transmit them to the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC), in the case of SANs, and the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC), in the case of other legal practitioners.
He added that in the event where such cases come on appeal to the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court, relevant departments are to fix special dates solely for hearing and determining such appeals.
Onnoghen noted that with pre-election appeals cases now out of the way, the Supreme Court will henceforth channel energy towards clearing as many of the corruption and financial crime cases as possible.
According to him, “We in the Supreme Court, having reduced the pre-election appeals in the course of the Third Term of the last Legal Year, will devote much of this First Term in dealing, by way of task work, with the identified eighteen (18) EFCC, ICPC, and Economic Crime cases alongside the normal Civil, Criminal, and Political cases”.
The CJN also warned bribe givers to desist from their dastardly act and vowed to bring the full wrath of the law on anyone caught in the act.
His words: “I encourage members of the public to cut off the supply side of corruption by stopping the offering of bribes to judicial officers. The full wrath of the law will be visited on all those caught in this nefarious activity that is capable of eroding integrity and confidence in the Judiciary”.
Onnoghen however charged the newly sworn in Seniior Advocates of Nigeria to guard their ranks jealously, adding that the award was a privilege which stood to be withdrawn if abused.
“I must remind you that being a privilege, it can, and shall be withdrawn if abused. The privileged you are conferred with today is not intended as a weapon of intimidation or licence for rudeness and arrogance”, the CJN warned.
The CJN also used the medium to announce the advances the Supreme Court had made in the use of technology towards achieving fair and speedy resolution of cases to include a technology-enabled Judges’ bench, high-definition audio/video recording equipment, FTR software to enable real-time transcription and transmission of court proceedings, high-tech mobile podium for presentation, document camera to display exhibits, and viewing screen in the gallery, among others.
Also speaking, the Attorney General of the federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami SAN, commended courts for their quick responses to cases relating to economic and corruption related issues.
He said the Supreme Court would soon be invited to intervene in some National issues affecting the national security of the country and that the court would be expected to dispense justice in fair and courageous manner as done in the past years.
He said FG will do everything possible to ensure peace and security of the nation and survival of democracy, adding that all agencies under his ministry would be made to respect judiciary.
He however called for a staggered vacations for judges instead of the current two and half months long vacation that is akin to total shutdown of the Judiciary.
“I proffer this opinion confident of the capacity of the Judicial arm to constantly renew and transform itself through a periodic review of its systems and processes.”