The Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, has advised judges to slam “severe costs” on lawyers who delay the course of justice in court.
Mr Osinbajo, a professor of law and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said judges must take charge of their courts by determining the pace at which cases must progress.
The Vice President spoke on Friday evening at the 20th year memorial anniversary symposium in honour of a late legal practitioner, Bankole Aluko (SAN).
A statement by his spokesperson, Laolu Akande, quoted the Vice President as speaking on the theme: ‘Administration of Justice: the Ideal Standard, the Nigeria Reality and Our Potential.’
“Severe costs should attend adjournments, there is no greater waste of taxpayer’s funds than for a scheduled case to have to be adjourned. It is only heavy costs that will discourage this malfeasance,” Mr Osinbajo said of the intractable delays that have dogged Nigeria’s justice system.
Recently, Nigeria’s Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami and the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Muhammad, argued over which arm of government was to blame for the slow pace of high profile cases in the country.
While Mr Malami during a television interview, blamed judges for the delay in prosecution of defendants, especially Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs), the CJN attributed the issue to the inability of the executive arm of government to provide the needed court facilities for speedy trials.
But in his presentation, the Vice President said the justice institution and infrastructure remain key to reforming the system.
He argued that “the judge is, of course, central to how our system of justice works. It is the court, not counsel that must determine the pace of cases.”
Working conditions of judges
On the expectations from judicial officers, Mr Osinbajo said “while we ask for the best from our judicial officers, we must equally ensure that the conditions under which they operate are not only befitting but are good enough to attract the best of minds in our profession.”
He also called for fairness in the selection and appointment of judges.
The Vice President said the robustness and transparency of the processes in other jurisdictions “provide comfort to the candidates of the fairness of the selection process; and enable the public to have front-row seat in some of these processes”, arguing that such a process be replicated in Nigeria.
The VP extolled the late Mr Aluko’s mastery of his craft, highlighted his varied abilities, and praised his contributions to the legal profession in the country.
He described him as a truly iconic figure and recalled that “he was always my preferred lawyer.”
‘Technicality must give way to merit’
Regarding the impact of the law on democracy, Mr Osinbajo noted that “the democratic rights of the people and their confidence in the notion of a government of the people, by the people, for the people, suffers when the system of electoral justice fails to see itself as a handmaid of the democratic process.”
Citing the decision of the Supreme Court in the 2019 elections in Zamfara State to buttress his point, the VP noted that “to make sense, judicial decisions and reasoning must in most cases meet the common notions of fairness and justice.”
“The system of justice must recognize the larger principles that it serves. In judicial interpretation, the spirit is as important as the letter of the law. Otherwise, judicial decisions become technistic applications far removed from common sense.
“The notions of justice that would meet public expectations of fairness and equity are those that promote substance over form. The observance of technicality over merit will always alienate the system of justice from the people it is meant to serve,” Mr Osinbajo said.
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