Justice Tanko Mohammed, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), has accused members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) of sometimes colluding with litigants to ridicule the courts.
Represented by Justice Mary Odili, Justice of the Supreme Court (JSC), at the 2021 NBA conference in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, the CJN lamented the woes facing the judiciary and urged the NBA to rise up and defend the judicial institution.
His words: “Another challenge being faced by the Judiciary is the assault by litigants against the institution of the Judiciary when their cases are not met.
Unfortunately, some members of the Bar also join them in ridiculing our courts in private discussions; and in the media.”
We agree that members of the Bar are fundamentally responsible for ridiculing the judicial process — after all, they file the cases and applications that cause such outrage. So we demand that the NBA take up the challenge and positively change the way and manner law is practised in our country. Their members, who engage in such shenanigans, should be forced to mend their ways.
As a body, the NBA can press for the necessary rules of practice that will ensure disciplinary procedures are efficiently enforced on erring members. Furthermore, the members of the Bar, who are in government, should push for better remuneration for the Bench to insulate them from the temptations of corrupt practices.
But while the NBA must purge the Bar of the tendencies to ridicule the Bench, we urge the courts themselves to stand up to the rascality of recalcitrant lawyers, as the CJN has directed. Hear him: ”As Head of the Judiciary, I have tasked all justices and judges to take up the challenge being pushed at us by the times.”
There is no doubt that the courts have the inherent powers to deal with abuses thrown at them in the conduct of cases. If a judge is resolute, he can deal with frivolous applications and hand out timeous penalties, where there are abuses of court procedure. Where the integrity of his court is maligned, the judge can deal with such infractions through contempt proceedings.
However, the ridicule mainly comes when courts of coordinate jurisdiction, in different parts of the country, give divergent orders, on the same subject matter. As admonished by Rhodes-Vivour, then as Justice of the Court of Appeal (JCA), in the case of Dumez (Nig) Plc vs UBA Plc (2006) 14 NWLR part 1000 p. 515 on page 527: ”Once a judge is aware of a case in his, or another jurisdiction on the same subject matter as the one before him, such a situation calls for caution.”
The learned Justice went on: “Nowadays, this is common and judges should not allow it to occur. If they do and proceed with the trial as if all is well, there is the real likelihood of two conflicting decisions at the end of the trial – which would end up polluting the streams of justice which ought to be kept pure at all times”.
Such a pollutant becomes double jeopardy for our country, as conflicting court orders are capable of plunging the country into anarchy. Still, what if such were products of honest mistakes, where the judges involved were not aware of parallel developments in the other courts? Lawal Pedro, SAN, former Lagos solicitor-general and permanent secretary, Lagos State Ministry of Justice, laments how a judge once queried him for appearing for a private interest, not knowing he had retired from public service.
Judges must, therefore, keep abreast of current happenings, especially as they impact their jobs, even as they try to insulate themselves from insidious influences that may compromise their integrity; and their ability to fairly dispense justice.
Even then, the NBA must evolve a more responsible and less unconscionable Bar that would take far less cynical advantage of judges’ honest mistakes.
Still, when either member of the Bar or the Bench compromise to ridicule the judicial process, the National Judicial Council (NJC), the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) and the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) must band together to deal with the scourge.
We must warn that ignoring the issues the CJN raised might demystify the rule of law, and aid descent into avoidable anarchy.