The National Judicial Council (NJC) has issued a new policy direction on the handling of political and election-related cases as such suits begin to flood Nigerian courts ahead of the 2023 general elections.
The new policy, issued at the NJC’s meeting held on Wednesday, gives strict rules to politicians on where they should file their political and election-related cases.
Announced by NJC’s information director, Soji Oye, in a statement after Wednesday’s meeting, the new policy also contains rules on how heads of courts and judges must handle such suits that have been ruled upon by a court of coordinate jurisdiction.
The statement said the NJC issued the new policy at the meeting presided over by the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Tanko Muhammad, who doubles as the chair of the council, to prevent another wave of conflicting decisions from courts of coordinate jurisdiction.
In December last year, the NJC had to sanction three High Court judges after issuing conflicting court decisions on political cases with the same subject matter.
The council also warned various heads of courts to put a stop to such embarrassing conduct of their judges in their various jurisdictions.
Cases the policy applies to
The new policy, which according to the NJC, takes immediate effect, applies to suits in which the parties include the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), any political party or its officers, or any other person, natural or legal.
In addition, the policy is applicable when such parties are “suing or sued for a declaration in relation to any action taken or to compel or restrain any action or omission with respect to the affairs of a political party or any election into a public office.”
One of its major highlights is a directive that such suits whose outcome will likely have “an effect or compel persons or actions beyond the territorial jurisdiction of any one state” must be filed at the High Court of the Federal Territory (FCT), Abuja.
Where such suits are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal High Court, the policy says, “they shall be filed or received at Abuja and assigned by the Chief Judge of the Court”.
These provisions of the policy reveal a conscious effort by the NJC to ensure that most such suits are filed in Abuja – either the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) or the Federal High Court – for better coordination.
But it states further, “All such suits wherein the cause of action arose in a State and the relief seeks a declaration or to compel or restrain person (s), natural or legal, within that State’s territory, with no consequence outside the State, shall be filed, received, or heard only in that State.”
It also directs the heads of courts to “assign cases or constitute panels with a view to forestalling the incidences of conflicting judgements and rulings.”
It prohibits courts or panels of coordinate jurisdiction from entertaining or being assigned suits of the same subject matter once the facts or issues have been ruled upon.
In such a situation, the policy says parties who are dissatisfied with the first furling “shall comply or proceed on appeal to the appropriate higher court”.
Mr Oye also said the NJC has recommended 49 successful candidates for appointment as heads of courts and other judicial officers.
He added that the council also received six notifications of retirement and one notification of death from the federal and state High Courts.
Read NJC’s full statement below:
PRESS RELEASE: 11TH MAY, 2022 – NJC ISSUES POLICY DIRECTIONS ON POLITICAL AND ELECTION RELATED CASES TO HEAD OF COURTS NATION-WIDE. TO TAKE IMMEDIATE EFFECT, ALSO RECOMMENDS APPOINTMENT OF FORTY-NINE (49) JUDICIAL OFFICERS.
Concerned by the multiplicity of litigations of political suits at different Courts of coordinate jurisdiction across the nation, resulting in conflicting orders on the same issues and facts, the National Judicial Council at its 98th Meeting of 10 and 11 May, 2022 under the Chairmanship of The Chief Justice of Nigeria, Honourable Dr. Justice I. T. Muhammad, CFR, issued Policy Directions in order to remedy the situation.
The Directions to all Federal and State Courts reads as follows:
“Pursuant to the powers vested in the National Judicial Council by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Schedule III, Part I, 21 (i).
These Policy Directions shall apply to all Suits filed in any Court in Nigeria wherein the Parties include Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), any political party or its officers, any other person, natural or legal, suing or sued for a declaration in relation to any action taken or to compel or restrain any action or omission with respect to the affairs of a political party or any election into a public office.
1. OBJECTIVES AND GUIDING PRINCIPLES
These Directions seek to:
a. Prevent the multiplicity of litigations at different Courts of coordinate jurisdiction across the nation, resulting in conflicting orders on the same issues and facts;
b. Recognise that Courts need to embrace prudential limitations on their powers with a view to curtailing the incidences of unscrupulous forum shopping disrupting the administration of justice and the democratic process; and
c. Acknowledge that the circumstances necessitate further administrative measures and procedures to complement and support the judicial process.
Without prejudice to the powers of Election Petitions Tribunals constituted pursuant to the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Pending the Constitution of a Cross Jurisdiction Litigation Panel (CJLP) to give directions on appropriate litigation for a for cross jurisdiction litigations:
a. All suits to which these Policy Directions apply shall be filed, received, or entertained only at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory in so far as the relief sought, or potential consequential order (s) or declaration (s) may restrain or compel persons or actions beyond the territorial jurisdiction of any one State;
b. Where such suits are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal High Court, they shall be filed or received at Abuja and assigned by the Chief Judge of the Court;
c. All such Suits wherein the cause of action arose in a State and the relief seeks a declaration or to compel or restrain person (s), natural or legal, within that State’s territory, with no consequence outside the State, shall be filed, received, or heard only in that State;
d. All Heads of Court shall assign cases or constitute panels with a view to forestalling the incidences of conflicting judgements and rulings;
e. Once facts or issues have been ruled upon, no other Court or Panel of Coordinate Jurisdiction shall be assigned or entertain Suits on the same subject matter and parties shall comply or proceed on appeal to the appropriate higher Court;
f. Rules of Court shall require sufficient notice and publicity of actions that potentially impact other cases;
g. Rules of Court shall stipulate solemn disclosure duties on litigants filing actions that may impact other actions.
Heads of Court shall exercise their rule making and administrative powers to give effect to these Policy Directions.
These directions shall take effect from the 11 May 2022”.
APPOINTMENT OF JUDICIAL OFFICERS
Council also considered the list of candidates presented by its Interview Committee and recommended forty-nine (49) successful candidates for appointment as Heads of Courts and other Judicial Officers in Nigeria.
Council also received Six (6) notifications of retirements and One (1) notification of death from the Federal and State High Courts.
Soji Oye, Esq
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