Despite an urgent need for more judges to address its huge backlog of cases, the Federal High Court is, for now, considering filling only six of the 28 existing vacancies on its bench.
The Chief Judge of the court, John Tsoho, who confirmed this in an exclusive interview with PREMIUM TIMES, said the desire to fill all the vacancies was being hampered by paucity of fund.
“The appointment of judges is a very tough process; it is so tedious because it is intricately tied to funding. If you must appoint a judge, you provide courtroom, support staff (registrars, clerks), security personnel among others.
“You have to provide a befitting car and accommodation. But considering what the economy is now, those are not things you can easily put in place.
“Mind you, all these things have to be catered for from the court’s budget; no other authority has responsibility for it. The NJC insists that every requirement for the appointment of judges must be on ground – the facilities and everything for their inspection before you go ahead with the recruitment,” Mr Tsoho said.
Statutorily, the court has a full complement of 100 judges, Mr Tsoho said, citing the Federal High Court (Amendment) Act, 2013.
But due to deaths, retirements, and elevation to the Court of Appeal bench, the number of judges of the court, which was 87 at some point, is currently 72.
Mr Tsoho told our reporter that the court management had sought the permission of the National Judicial Council (NJC) to appoint 21 judges as far back as 2019, but got approval for only six last year.
“In 2019 while we were preparing for the 2020 budget, what we proposed was actually the appointment of 21 judges.
“When we got to the NJC, they couldn’t approve more than six. So, it is the vacancies for six judges that have been publicised so far. So, we had to shift the difference to the following year, which is 2021. But coming to this year, the approved budget has even been worse than that of last year,” the Chief Judge said.
‘Crying need for more judges’
Mr Tsoho lamented the caseload the court’s judges were grappling with, with some according to him, having between 400 to 500 cases in their docket.
Taking our reporter through how the number of judges slumped from 87 that it was at some point to its current 72, he said there was a “crying need” to replace the vacancies left behind by the exited judges.
“…As of this moment, the number has dropped to 72. It means we have vacancies for 28 judges if we must meet our full complement. The number went up to 87 at some point, but so many factors led to the number dropping, like retirement, elevation and even death.
“Within the last legal year, we lost two judges and we had several retirements. So, the number has dropped. There is a crying need to replace that number. Even if we cannot make up to a hundred, it should get very close to that number,” Mr Tsoho said.
Judges were last appointed to the Federal High Court bench in June 2018 with nine brought on board in that batch.
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