Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) on Monday advised the National Judicial Council (NJC) to quicken the process of filling the vacancies at the Supreme Court. Prince Fagbemi who spoke on Monday at a special session to mark 2023/2024 new legal year and swearing-in ceremony
Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Prince Lateef Fagbemi, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) on Monday advised the National Judicial Council (NJC) to quicken the process of filling the vacancies at the Supreme Court.
Prince Fagbemi who spoke on Monday at a special session to mark 2023/2024 new legal year and swearing-in ceremony of 58 new Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) expressed President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s “readiness to implement judicial reforms with the cooperation of the judiciary.
“We, therefore, earnestly await the judiciary to set the ball rolling to enable the other arms to play their part in this critical aspect of nation-building,” he said.
For the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, Nigerians should be less litigious and embrace alternative dispute-resolution mechanisms just as he advocated an amendment to the Nigerian constitution to stop most cases from getting to the Supreme Court.
He said :”I have made it clear at different occasions that it is not every dispute that must find its way to the court, and it is not every matter that must come up to the Supreme Court on appeal. Our laws have to be amended to make most appeals end at the Court of Appeal,” he added, saying the appellate court is competent to adjudicate on all cases”, Justice Ariwoola said.
Justice Ariwoola insisted that the judiciary would not replace the law with sentiments and emotions of the public.
His words: “The law remains the law, no matter whose interest is involved .In all we do, as interpreters of the law, we should endeavour to sever the strings of emotion from logic and assumption from fact,” the CJN stressed, adding: “We should never be overwhelmed by the actions or loud voices of the mob or crowd and now begin to confuse law with sentiment or something else in deciding our cases”.
He , however, asked justices to be above board and to be bold during adjudication. According to him, judges should receive what is tendered in court and eschew what is against the law and facts after thorough analysis and assimilation both in and out of court, which exercise, he said is part of judgeship.
He admonished judges: “The Caesar’s wife must be above board! Your image and reputation both inside and outside the court must be pristine and crystal clear to all and sundry. Like I said earlier, be bold in all your judgments by deciding cases without fear or favour, because fear and favour come in many hues and colours.”
Justice Ariwoola who gave a breakdown of cases that were decided and those pending at the court said a total of 1,271 appeals and motions were filed in the out – gone legal year.
He said : “Out of these, we heard 388 political appeals, 215 criminal appeals, and 464 civil appeals. Similarly, the court considered a total number of 49 criminal motions, 153 civil motions, and two political motions,” he said.
The CJN said the Supreme Court, between September 2022 and July 2023, delivered a total number of 251 judgements.
Specifically, he said : “Out of these, 125 were political appeals, 81 were civil appeals and 45 were criminal appeals. Within the period under review (precisely 10 months’ duration), a total number of 91 Rulings were delivered by the Honourable Court,” Justice Ariwoola said.
Prince Fagbemi advised the new SANs, the AGF warned against unprofessional conduct. He said the latest guidelines of the LPPC do not permit restoration of the SAN rank once it is withdrawn for violation of the rules.
The Attorney General and Minister of Justice urged lawyers to assist the courts in justice dispensation.
The Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN) represented by Mr. Ebun Sofunde, SAN, said Nigerians were fast losing hope in the capacity of the judiciary to deliver justice timeously. In response to the problem, Mr Sofunde said disgruntled Nigerians were resorting to law enforcement agents for settling disputes, a situation he described as illegal.
“Law enforcement agents now fill the void created by inefficient judicial system. When judges are overwhelmed by work burden, they see adjudication of cases as perfunctory,” he said.
The lawyer explained that excessive workload on judges impacts negatively on the quality of decisions emanating from the courts. He warned that citizens’ loss of confidence in the justice system births anarchy.
He advised the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC), a body saddled with the conferment of the rank of SAN, to review its criteria in terms of the number of concluded cases lawyers are required to have in their kitty before applying for the prestigious award.
Mr Sofunde noted that the criterion concerning the number of cases to be filed by SAN applicants puts pressure on the courts as lawyers lodge frivolous suits that end up clogging the courts’ dockets.
Although there have been calls by former Supreme Court justices for a reduction in the type of cases that gets to the Supreme Court, however, only amendments to the Nigerian constitution and other relevant laws by the National Assembly could achieve that if signed into law by the president.
Justice Ariwoola, however, vowed to leave a legacy of having 11 more justices to the Supreme Court to achieve the unprecedented full complement of 21 justices.