The Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar, Wednesday, blamed the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN, for unwittingly contributing to undue delay in the prosecution of high profile cases of corruption in the country.
The CJN who stated this on a day she administered oath on 25 new Senior Advocates of Nigeria, insisted that “the courts cannot on their own prosecute criminal cases,” noting that “on the streets of Nigeria and beyond, the cry for justice lingers.”
According to the CJN, “the administration of justice is not confined to the courts; it encompasses officers of the law and others whose duties are necessary to ensure that the courts function effectively.”
Besides, Justice Mukhtar who equally used the occasion to flag-off the 2012/2013 legal year of the Supreme Court, stressed that “the society can operate under the rule of law only if laws are administered fairly, rationally, consistently, impartially and devoid of any improper influences that may be inconsistent with each of these objectives,” adding “without judicial independence, there can be no preservation of democratic values.”
She said: “the prison system for instance presents a horrific state that calls for urgent attention. There are presently an estimated number of 40, 000 prisoners in Nigeria with about two thirds of this population not convicted. Perhaps the Amnesty International is correct for laying blame on the Nigerian judiciary. Unnecessary adjournments of cases along with the attendant ills of the courts to ensure that inmates are tried within a reasonable time, comes into play here.
“Interestingly, administration of justice, with particular reference to criminal law, is a compendious term that stands for all the complexes of activities that operate to bring the substantive law of crime to bear, or to keep it from coming to bear, on persons who are suspected of having committed crimes.
“It refers to the rules of law that govern the detection, investigation, apprehension, prosecution and trial of persons suspected of crime and those persons whose responsibility it is to work within the rules.
“The administration of justice is not confined to the courts; it encompasses officers of the law and others whose duties are necessary to ensure that the courts function effectively.
“The constitution provides that the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, as the Chief law officer of the Federation has the power to institute, undertake, take-over, continue or discontinue criminal proceedings before the courts of law in Nigeria in respect of offences created under any Act of the National Assembly.
“It, therefore, follows that the courts cannot on their own prosecute criminal cases, there must be the willingness of all prosecuting agencies to prosecute cases brought before our courts, especially high profile cases of corruption and all others.
“I am not unaware of the challenges but let me mention here that the efforts of some State administration aimed at introducing alternative punitive measures as a way of prison decongestion is commendable. Community Service, non-custodian sentences and probation as they operate in a host of other countries have been suggested by different quarters. An implementation of these policies will no doubt be of great benefit to the government and the society at large."
Meantime, the AGF, who was visibly unsettled with the CJN’s address, in his own speech, insisted that prominent among the challenges facing the judiciary in the discharge of its duties, includes the “declining ethical standards and indiscipline at the Bar.”
He said: “it is a matter of deep regret that lawyers, including some Senior Advocates routinely engage in unwholesome practices unbecoming of members of this noble profession."