One of the major hurdles faced by litigants in Nigerian Courts is about to give way if the bill proposed by Former Speaker of Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly and Member representing Etinan/Nsit Ibom/Nsit Ubium Federal Constituency, Rt. Hon (Barr) Onofiok Luke succeeds.
That hurdle is the burden of litigants starting their matters afresh when the judge who heard their cases are transfered or promoted to a higher court. Once a judge is transfered, he drops all files and move on to the next court. The new judge assuming duty starts the hearing all over so that he can get facts of the case, study the arguments to be able to deliver judgement. This practice has not only been time consuming, it also delays justice and increases expenditure on parties in a matter. Some litigants have lost means and stamina to pursue cases because of this practice, resorted to self help and endanger peaceful coexistence in the Society.
To address this difficulty, Onofiok Luke, lawyer and politician, on Wednesday on the floor of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, proposed an amendment to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to allow for completion of criminal matters heard by a judge of a High Court before his elevation to the Court of Appeal. While leading debate on the Bill, Mr Luke, a former student leader said “it is a common practice where judges of the High Court get elevated to the Court of Appeal whenever there is a vacancy, when judges get elevated, criminal cases presided by them before they were elevated get stalled, and in fact, start de novo (afresh)”. This hallowed chamber in conjunction with its sister legislative body, the Senate, passed into law the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, as a solution to that aspect of judicial problem. Specifically, section 396(7) of the Act legitimized the practice where a judge appointed to the Court of Appeal can effectually return to the High Court and continue to sit as a judge over criminal matters he partly adjudicated before his elevation.
“The legislative solution-cum-decision was an intelligent step towards discouraging waste of time and resources, which often characterize criminal matters started anew.’
The Member of Parliament recalled how last year the Supreme Court struck down section 396(7) of the ACJA as being unconstitutional. He said:
“The Honourable Court reasoned that a judicial officer cannot simultaneously assume the role of a Justice of the Court of Appeal and still sit as a judge of the High Court, holding that such practice was not within permissible constitutional boundary.”
“The decision of the Court has thrown up myriads of problems and has sailed us back to a harbour of delay in criminal adjudication which we thought we had left”.
Luke then called on the House to amend the Principal Act to allow a judge elevated to the Court of Appeal to continue hearing criminal matter part-heard by him before his elevation. He reasoned that it will assist in just and fair hearing and determination of corruption and money laundry matters.
The bill has passed second reading and was referred to the Ad-hoc Committee on Constitutional Review for further deliberation.
Pictured: Publisher, Real News, Otuekong Uduak-Abasi Ikpat (left) with Rt Hon (Bar) Onofiok Luke in Abuja on Wednesday shortly after House seating.