Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) has accused the Federal government of carrying out attacks on the independence of the judiciary and of the legal profession in a contrived plan to intimidate Judges and cow lawyers particularly with a pseudo fight against so-called corruption.
The body further accused government of using the very court system originally designed for justice, to terrorise members of the legal profession by as ascribing and arraignment for phantom charges.
Speaking on Monday for the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Chief Chris Uche (SAN), lamented that lawyers are now plying their trade under heavy cloud of fear.
The event was to mark the new legal year of the FCT High Court.
He noted the emerging and revealing phenomenon is that these erosions of the rule of law are occurring in countries with elected governments, not military regimes.
“In other words, merely enthroning a civilian government is not a guarantee for democracy and the rule of law.
The strategy is to “weaponise of the law”, that is, to use the law as a weapon, by using the very court system originally designed for justice, to terrorise members of the legal profession by ascribing and arraignment for phantom charges. To this is added the strategy of public vilification/media trials of lawyers and the judiciary.
“Now lawyers are plying their trade under a heavy cloud of fear, particularly those who have briefs to defend clients who may not be in good standing with the Government of the day. These attacks always represent the initial symptoms of descent to authoritarianism as the fabrics of democracy and freedom are gradually weakened and destroyed when the independence of the judiciary and the independence of the legal profession are attacked and eroded.”
The senior lawyer added that “since it is the Bar that will fight for the independence of the Judiciary, an emasculation of the Bar through attacks on the independence of the legal profession will result in the direct erosion of the independence of the Judiciary.
“The independence of the judiciary and the legal profession are not for the benefit of lawyers; they are actually for the benefit of the society and this is because, once the lawyers are cowed, the fundamental rights of the citizens to be represented by lawyers of their choices are destroyed, and indeed justice dispensation is threatened and undermined.
“Therefore the Bench and the Bar must be jointly involved in the defence of the independence of the Judiciary. What affects the Bench affects the Bar and vice versa. We must adopt a ‘mutually-assured-defence’ strategy to protect the rule of law. The Bench and the Bar must stand together in the fight to defend the independence of the Judiciary. We are all living witnesses to what happened during the Onnoghen saga, which I need not speak on. As members of one profession, Judges and lawyers all have a bounden duty to safeguard and promote the rule of law.
The Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria will want to assure your Lordships of our fullest co-operation, support, and solidarity in the discharge of your constitutional duties to dispense justice without fear or favour.
Meanwhile, the Chief Justice of the FCT High Court, Justice Ishaq Bello, disclosed that a total of 13, 961 cases was disposed in 2018/2019 legal year.
According to the CJ, the total caseload in 2018/2019 was 30, 582, 16, 396 were fresh cases and 14, 186 was carried over from 2017/2018 legal year.
“In total, 13, 961 were disposed, this is an indication of our ever increasing case load.
“From the statistics available, on the average, a court has about 850 cases in its docket and about 387 cases decided per judge ” he disclosed.
Bello further disclosed that at the Magistracy, 11, 969 cases were disposed out of 21, 108.
He added that complement of judges and magistrates need to be augmented to meet the huge workload.
Bello disclosed also that from the Sharia Court of Appeal (SCA) 223 cases were registered and 206 disposed 92 percent with 17 pending.
According to the CJ , total cases at the Area Courts, were 9682 and 6579 carried over from 2017/2018 legal year, bringing the overall caseload to 16, 261, with 9906 disposed.
He added that at the Customary Court of Appeal 664 cases out which 566 were disposed, at the Customary Court 1180 of which 1115 were disposed.
Speaking for the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr Paul Usoro, SAN, represented by Mr, A.T Kehinde, SAN said the partnership between the Bench and the Bar should not be stained by external forces.
According to him, it should be remembered that both the Bar and Bench are from the same parents.
He added that without the bar there would be no bench and the Bar will be emasculated.
“Therefore, the synergy between us must continue must continue for the the delivery of justice that would be obvious to the ordinary man on the street.
“The bench, it is noted, has been under trial from the media, security agencies and the public who do not even understand the modus operandi of the Bench ” he said.
According to Usoro, unfortunately, the ‘Bench has no voice to defend itself ‘ therefore the bar should stand in defence of the Bench.