CJN says Supreme Court’s diary filled till 2021, lawyers worry
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, said on Monday that the Supreme Court’s diary has been filled up till 2021.
With hearing slots at the apex court already fully booked for the next three years, the Chief Justice said the court would not tolerate unnecessary adjournments arising from lack of diligent prosecution, poor preparations or non-appearance by counsel.
Justice Onnoghen added, in a statement issued on his behalf by his Special Assistant on Media, Mr Awassam Bassey, that, henceforth, all matters must be heard on the dates fixed for them.
Bassey also said that on the directive of the CJN, “The Supreme Court of Nigeria has commenced publishing its cause list for up to three months per time on its website, www.supremecourt.gov.ng.”
He said the directives by the CJN were aimed at achieving speedy dispensation of justice in the apex court.
He said, “This is a departure from the former practice where the court only published weekly cause list and the rulings on applications from chamber sitting on the said website.
“The policy, according to the CJN, is deliberately targeted at the speedy dispensation of justice and its publication is to encourage counsel to take advantage of the initiative and prepare adequately ahead of hearings, to avoid any delays.
“The Honourable CJN said it is pertinent to state that the Supreme Court’s diary is full with appeals set down for hearing up to the year 2021.”
According to Bassey, the appeals will be heard and judgments delivered as necessary and in accordance with the Rules of the Court.
“The Honourable CJN added that the situation, therefore, leaves no room for unnecessary adjournments arising from lack of diligent prosecution, poor preparations or non-appearance by counsel.
“Accordingly, the Honourable CJN says this means that any matter that is assigned a date must be heard and determined one way or the other on that date.
“For appeals that may be discovered to have defects, counsel are advised to take necessary steps to amend such defects before the due hearing date,’’ the statement said, stressing that “everyone must come to the court fully prepared for the business of the day’’.
Bassey said the CJN also advised lawyers to obtain their official legal email addresses to be able to conduct their cases at the Supreme Court.
Revelation by CJN scary, says Ubani
A former Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr Monday Ubani, described the revelation by the CJN as scary, saying it portends danger for the country as it could discourage foreign investors, among other problems.
Speaking with one of our correspondents in a phone interview on Wednesday, Ubani said, “Honestly, that statement is pregnant; it means that if your appeal has not been given a date, it will have to wait for another three years. It means that new cases that are coming up will start from 2022. That, to me, is very scary, especially for litigants. And that is what we are saying about the issue of delay in the administration of justice in Nigeria.
“We have suggested that we should begin to take practical steps to address the problem, one of which is to the suggestion to decentralise the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
“Why must we have only one Supreme Court for a country of about 200 million people? Why can’t we even have some matters stop at the Court of Appeal? Why must every matter get to the Supreme Court? Even issues that have already been decided and jurisprudence settled, people still want to appeal because they want to be a SAN – for you to be a SAN you have to have done a number of cases at the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
“We must realistically appraise these issues and find solutions because more problems are coming up everyday and the situation is not giving our country as good image, in terms of investors-friendliness.
“It portends danger and we need to sit down and address this issue. Let us look at whether we are comfortable with having only one Supreme Court, which is in Abuja and whether it is not possible for us to have the divisions of the Supreme Court in the different regions.”
Ubani argued that there must be reduced emphasis on having a certain number of cases at the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court to qualify for the SAN title.
“As long that this is a requirement to become a SAN, I can assure you that the appellate courts will always be congested. We should rather be looking at competence, fair recommendation and other things,” he said.
CJN should declare state of emergency in judiciary –Otteh
The Director, Access to Justice, Mr Joseph Otteh, while also describing the revelation by the CJN as scary, said it was time to declare a state of emergency in the Nigerian justice sector.
Otteh said, “That is very scary; it means, you need about three or four years to get a possibility that your appeal will be heard. That is really very scary. It shows that we are still not making the kind of progress that we ought to be making with respect to getting justice in the country.
“If it takes four years to get a hearing date, which does not mean that that is when judgment will be delivered, it then means that it will take a minimum of 10 years for a case to travel through the gamut of the courts because all the matters that go to the Supreme Court have been through the Court of Appeal, perhaps the high court, perhaps even the magistrates’ court.
“Are we making progress? This was what it used to be several years ago and this is one of the major obstacles to being able to access justice in Nigeria.
“I believe that we can do better; Nigerians expect the judiciary to do better. Nigerians cannot have confidence in a justice system where it takes them a minimum of 10 years to get a case heard and finally determined.
“What I think we need to do really is, let the CJN declare a state of emergency in the court system and call everybody and say let us go to the drawing board because we cannot afford to continue like this. A lot of people have ideas that can help to ameliorate these challenges. Other countries have gone through these challenges, they have not solved all the problems but they have made significant progress – in England, in South Africa, in Kenya. What can we learn from them? And why are we not coordinating efforts to learn from them because we can’t continue to lament that the Supreme Court is choked up.
“Declare a state of emergency, that is what we are calling on the CJN to do.”
Development sad, says Aina
A London, United Kingdom-based Nigerian lawyer, Mr Femi Aina, described the congestion of the Supreme Court as sad.
Aina said, “It is so sad that the highest court in the land is so overwhelmed.
“The issue remains that delayed justice is another form of injustice.
“It is high time the Supreme Court developed some form of weeding-out mechanism so as to take out unmeritorious cases that are clogging the system.
“I will strongly suggest that a single judge should be assigned to look at the merits of an appeal before the matter is listed for full hearing.
“There should also be costs and sanctions against erring lawyers who file and pursue unmeritorious appeals.”
No cause for alarm –Shittu
But a Lagos-based lawyer and lecturer at the University of Lagos, Mr Wahab Shittu, said there was no cause for alarm, as the Supreme Court would still make room for compelling cases, despite its congested diary.
Shittu said, “You know that the current Chief Justice of Nigeria is reform-minded and he is tilted towards the attainment of justice. Depending on the urgency, how compelling a case is and the justice of a case, in spite of the schedule of the court, they will always accommodate such matters.
“Even for corruption cases, there is a special practice direction to get those cases fast-tracked in spite of the tight schedule of the Supreme Court.
“The Supreme Court is not only a court of justice, it is also a court of law as well as a court of public policy. All of these factors weigh heavily on the way businesses are conducted in that court. There is no cause for alarm at all.”