The Chairman of Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Itse Sagay, has called on Nigeria to adopt the jury system in its criminal justice administration, because some judges cannot be relied upon to uphold the integrity of the judicial system.
Mr. Sagay, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, spoke Tuesday at a one-day symposium tagged ‘Salvaging Nigeria’s Criminal Justice System: The Jury Option’ organised by the Ikeja Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association.
“In Lagos, the jury system on criminal matter was operating as late as 1976 before it was abolished by the military. I personally supported its abolition for various reasons and the number one reason being that I believed that layman jury could easily be influenced and take instructions; but I believed a judge, being learned in law, would be resistant to persuasion and would uphold the integrity of the judicial system,” Mr. Sagay said.
“But I have seen that corruption in the judiciary is so rampant that my earlier view is redundant. In recent years, it has been established that some judges cannot be relied upon to uphold the integrity of the judicial system.
“It would appear that technical knowledge of the law is being used as a barrier to the administration of the law.
“A disturbing example occurred in recent times where a judge upheld that a fellow judge charged for corruption had no case to answer despite the preponderance of evidence,” he said.
At the symposium organised in collaboration with The Jury Justice and Rectitude Advocacy, Razak Atunwa, a lawyer and member of the House of Representatives, said the beauty of the jury system is that while the jury would be the arbiter of facts, the judge would be an arbiter of the law.
“I am speaking as some sort of authority on the subject matter. I was called to the Bar in England and I appeared before a judge and jury for not less than 12 years,” said Mr Atunwa, who is the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Justice.
“In the case study by Prof Sagay, I listened as he recounted some of the evidence and the response of the audience. If the case was put before 12 persons in the audience to decide on the fact, you would have come to a different conclusion than the judge.
“It is not a perfect system but it is near perfect in a criminal matter. Even democracy does not give a perfect system. Jurors are not professionals and it is not cumbersome to operate. I can say this because not only have I practiced before a jury, I have also been a juror.”
To operate the system, however, Mr. Atunwa said Nigeria needs a better database “because it is from it that the jurors would be drawn.”
“It is said that we are not homogeneous but hardly will you find a nation in the world that is homogeneous today. Emotions will set in but when you start orienting the people, they will see themselves as being able to shape the society. When faced with facts, you would be concerned more about your duty than affiliations.”
Mr. Atunwa said a jury system would provide justice for the people whenever the government introduces oppressive laws.
“You recently protested the new land use charge in Lagos,” he said.
“Imagine that failure to pay what you refer to as oppressive taxes becomes a criminal offence and there is a jury that needs to adjudicate? They will rebel against the judge and they will apply common sense.
“It will avail those who make the law to rethink whether the law is fair and just or not. That way, the jury would have used its conscience to persuade the government.
“There would be a need for there to be specialisation in the bar if we need this to be a reality and judges with specialty so they can apply the law accurately.”
Tayo Olatubosun, who represented Muiz Banire, the National Legal Adviser of the All Progressives Congress, said the clamour for the jury option is because the present system is not working.
“We have a bench trial where the judge is both the judge and jury,” he said.
“The jury system is quite efficient in terms of speed. Names are usually gotten from a data pool, invites are sent out to many people and half would still be living in the area. Trial is day to day till they are through with the case and, because the jury has limited time, the trial would be fast.”
Earlier, the keynote speaker, Taiwo Osipitan, said it would be difficult to conclude whether the adoption of the jury trial system would aid quick and effective dispensation of justice, particularly in the criminal justice system in Nigeria.
He, however, added that a cautious re-introduction could be an option.
“It is also imperative that the concerns noted be adequately addressed before reintroduction of the jury trial system in Nigeria can be contemplated, otherwise it may not be an effective option.”
Caroline Ibharuneafe, the Vice Chairman of the Ikeja NBA, said, “The fact remains that whether special or more courts, they still would be presided over by only one person; the judge.
“Given the high propensity of some of our judicial officers to be compromised, those suggestions may achieve little or nothing, hence the jury option.”
Seidu Atteh, representing the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu, said “the Commission will support any system that will take us forward in achieving the objective of reducing economic and financial crimes.”