The recent revision of the Judicial Discipline Regulations published by the National Judicial Council will hurt the fight against corrupt judges, Access to Justice, a justice advocacy group, has said.
In a statement issued in Lagos, the group said that while the revision is aimed at curtailing frivolous petitions against judges, it would weaken the integrity of the judiciary.
“We urge the NJC to revisit the new Rules again and remove provisions which fetter the right and ability of citizens to make bona fide representations to the Council which the Council will act on, and provisions which limit the Council’s own power to tackle misconduct and corruption and those who engage in or profit from it,” said Joseph Otteh, Director, Access to Justice.
The revised regulations state new rules governing the receipt and consideration of complaints against judges.
A few weeks ago, a mother of four, Emily Richard-Obire, filed a petition against Olamide Oloyede, a judge in Osun State, accusing her of amorous relationship with her husband.
Ms. Oloyede shot into national prominence after she submitted a petition to the Osun State House of Assembly calling for the impeachment of Rauf Aregbesola, the state governor, for alleged financial recklessness.
According to Mr. Otteh, the NJC’s regulation placing a time limit on petitions is “overtly intrusive.”
Rule 4(1) of the revised regulations states: “A complaint must be made within six months of the event or matter complained of, provided a complaint relating to a continuing state of affairs may be made at any time while the state of affairs continues or within six months from when it ends”.
Mr. Otteh said that in many instances, cases of misconduct, particularly those concerning corruption occurring in the course of a judicial adjudication are only known after the fact, and there is usually no timeline for coming to the knowledge.
“In most cases, the corrupt conduct of a judicial officer may only become public knowledge following a careless slip or from the irrepressible work of investigative reporters,” Mr. Otteh said.
“Whenever the facts become known, let due process follow. There should be no statute of limitations applicable to judicial corruption or misconduct. Our fight against corruption in the administration of justice ought to run a free course.”
On another part of the regulation that requires a complainant to be “accompanied by a verifying affidavit deposed before a court of record,” Mr. Otteh said that it stretches the responsibility for credibility “a little too far”.
“It also technicalizes what ought to be simple, accessible and straightforward procedure or action for two major reasons: first, many otherwise valid complaints may be made by people who lack information of the technical requirements now being imposed by the Council,” said Mr. Otteh.
“If aggrieved people make credible complaints against judges and these complaints are peremptorily discountenanced because they have not complied with a stated procedure or because they lack some formality, the Judiciary deprives itself of fair and early warning that a person of questionable integrity may be in its midst.
“This will not do justice to the complainant, to the cause of justice, nor, too, to the Judiciary and society. Insisting that whistle-blowers or informants must verify the ‘truth of the facts alleged’ can act as a strong disincentive to whistle-blowers or informants (who already run risks for leaking relevant information) to come forward with that disclosure.
“Effective complaint systems encourage, and not stifle feedbacks or complaints even when offered anonymously.”
Access to Justice further stated that the primary concern of the NJC should be seeking ways to eradicate corruption within the judiciary and not limiting the channels of exposing it.
“In fairness, the NJC must concede that the rule is also possible to misconstrue even by people with reasonable literacy levels,” said Mr. Otteh.
“In any event, it should be said that the duty to investigate, verify and substantiate a complaint in relation to a crime is the responsibility of the police, in the same way it is the responsibility of a disciplinary body like the NJC and not the complainant to investigate and substantiate a complaint. There is no legal justification for pushing that duty to the complainant.
“We understand that the NJC, by these Guidelines, wants to safeguard against unnecessary petitions but that objective can be achieved without encumbering the accessibility of the NJC’s complaint process with unnecessary legalisms.
“While A2Justice will support efforts to reduce inordinate pressures on time and concentration of judges, we urge that judicial integrity should not be sacrificed for technicalities of form and time.”