The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Walter Onnoghen, has warned against the discussion in the media of matters pending before courts.
In a New Year message to journalists, signed by the CJN’s Media Assistant, Don Awassam Bassey, he cited judicial expressions forbidding the practice of discussing pending cases in the media.
“The CJN wishes to remind the public that it is Contempt of Court for anyone to discuss any matter pending in any Court of Law in the country. The punishment for Contempt may include a term of imprisonment,”he said.
Citing previous decisions of courts, the CJN said the courts of law had prohibited the discussion of pending criminal cases. It added that the declarations still stand.
“In respect of criminal proceedings, it is forbidden for parties, their counsel or newspaper commentators to freely offer opinions in respect of matters pending in court, including any situation where a conviction has been entered but the convict’s appeal is pending at the appellate court.
‘We must not allow ‘trial by newspaper’ or ‘trial by television or trial by any medium other than the courts of law.’ I think that anything in the nature of prejudgment of a case or of specific issues in it is objectionable not only because of its possible effect on that particular case but, also, because of its side effects which may be far reaching.
“Responsible ‘mass media’ will do their best to be fair, but there will also be ill-informed, slapdash or prejudiced attempts to influence the public.
“If people are led to think that it is easy to find the truth, disrespect for the processes of the law could follow and, if mass media are allowed to judge, unpopular people and unpopular causes will fare very badly.
“Most cases of prejudging of issues fall within the existing authorities on contempt. I do not think that the freedom of the press would suffer, and I think that the law would be clearer and easier to apply in practice if it is made a general rule that it is not permissible to prejudge issues in pending cases.”
The CJN further said the abusive tone adopted by other lawyers for judges and opponents of cases makes it necessary to stop the practice.