Hard knocks came the way of some lawyers on Monday.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, accused them of using delay tactics to frustrate speedy dispensation of justice.
Speaking at a special session to commence the 2016/2017 legal year in Abuja, Mohammed lamented that those involved use frivolous applications and appeals to get their way to delay justice endlessly.
To him, these abuses of court process not only occasion delays but also diminish the standing of the justice system and the legal profession in the eyes of the public.
He also revealed that the Supreme Court entertained 1,489 matters in the 2015/2016 legal year.
Mohammed said the figure consisted of 908 motions and 581 substantive appeals and 268 judgments.
“Indeed, during this period we received about 10 new appeals per week, most of which were interlocutory in nature.
“Consequently, we have taken the historic step towards the expansion of the single track of justice delivery in the court by allowing for appeals to be mediated where the parties and issues permit.
He, therefore, said: “On behalf of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, I wish to extend our sincere welcome to the opening of the 2016/2017 legal year.
“With these statistics given above, I dare to say that in the 2015/2016 legal year, our court confirmed its status as arguably the most overworked Supreme Court anywhere in the World,’’ the CJN said.
He also said: “I am proud to say that by the will of Almighty, I am leaving the Supreme Court in a better shape than I met it’’.
“Indeed, in the past year, this court has witnessed numerous improvements both in terms of physical infrastructure and statutory functioning that will no doubt put us on the cusp of greater accomplishments.
“This legal year has certainly been an eventful one. We have rowed against the proverbial tides and withstood the blistering winds and gale forces.
“Indeed, we must appreciate and commend the efforts made by our justices, and all judicial officers and staff of the various strata of our judiciary towards enhancing the administration of justice,’’ he said.
The CJN further said the landmark achievements were recorded despite the various attacks and challenges to the independence of this arm of government.
Mohammed said last legal year witnessed transition in the ranks of the justices of the court with the appointment of Justice Amiru Sanusi to join the ranks of the court.
“While we are waiting for the confirmation of the appointment of two justices of the court by the Senate, the NJC is expected to consider and recommend the appointment of two additional justices at its meeting on September 28
“We also held valedictory sittings on the retirement of two of our brothers, in the persons of Justices Afolabi Fabiyi and Sailfullahi Muntaka-Coomasie into well deserved life of leisure and rest.
“I thank these two distinquished jurists and gentlemen for their invaluable contributions to the jurisprudence of the court and rest assured, they are sorely missed by us all,’’ Mohammed said.
On administration of justice, the CJN said the judiciary had once again had to address the perennial issue of delays.
“While we all rush to rehash the age-old rhetoric that justice delayed is justice denied, the actions of our key stakeholders, particularly members of the bar have often proven to be far from the words.
“Although new laws and practice directions have been enacted with the aim of speeding up the administration of justice, incessant delays remain.
“Sadly, certain members of the bar are conspicuous in utilising unethical, frivolous applications and appeals, multiplicity of actions in courts of coordinate jurisdiction and other acts of calumny to frustrate the speedy dispensation of justice,’’ he said.
According to him, these abuses of court process not only occasion delays, but also diminish the standing of the justice system and the legal profession in the eyes of the public.
“My Lords, distinguished guests and gentlemen of the bar, as I wind down this legal year speech, I must confess that I do so with a certain sense of nostalgia.
“I also do so in the firm knowledge that since my elevation to this noble court, I have put my hands to the proverbial plough in contributing my quota to the decisions of the court.
“I am satisfied that the initiatives introduced by my predecessors and I have steadily led to an improvement in the procedures and business of the court,’’ the CJN said.
He further said: “I am similarly confident that this will continue to be improved upon when the baton is transferred to my successor-in-office’’.
“On a particularly encouraging note, I am glad to have also walked the talk in establishing the first court-connected ADR facility in the Supreme Court.
“I feel rewarded to be departing the court, safe in the knowledge that our court is now a beacon to other jurisdictions in the use of a multi-modal justice delivery system
“I, therefore, urge you to be part of the success of the Supreme Court mediation centre,’’ he said.
The CJN is due to retire from service this year.
The outgoing CJN used the occasion to swear-in 22 senior lawyers promoted to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
Those who benefitted are: Mr Olanrewaju Onadeko (D.G Law School); Nnamonso Eminem; Prof. Muhammed Tabiu; Dr. Valerie-Janette Azinge; Olufunke Agbor; Olusola Ojutalayo; Richard Akintunde; Oyesoji Oyeleke; James Njeze Ikeyi and Elisha Kurah.
The other were; Adewunmi Ogunsanya; Olatubosun Olanipekun; Chief Kalu Umeh; Adewale Adesokan; Andrew Igboekwe; Fredson Okoli; Olaseni Adio; Olasheni Ibiwoye; Abdulhakeem Mustapha; Mba Ukweni; Edward Gyang Pwajok (former Attorney General Plateau State) and Prof. Chukwu Omaka.
This position established by law in 1975 now has a total of 451 SANs.
The CJN urged them to be exemplary and committed to their legal duties, adding that the country’s justice system must be jealously guarded.
“I congratulate you on your formal elevation to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria’’, Mohammed said.
In his goodwill message, Mr Abubakar Mahmud (SAN), President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) said it was customary to use the occasion to reflect, took stock and charted the way forward.
Onadeko, who spoke on behalf of the new SANs, expressed profound appreciation on their elevations, adding that the attainment of admission to the inner bar came with special feelings.
“The attainment of admission to the inner bar, by members of our profession, is a special recognition of our humble endeavours in craving for excellence at the bar,’’ he said.
Chief Onomigbo Okporo (SAN), speaking on behalf of the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria said the country’s judiciary was at a cross road.
“In our nation as it stands today, no one needs to be told that the bar and the bench are at a cross road.
“For the judiciary, the nation in the recent past has witnessed the show of shame brought about by court of coordinate jurisdiction assuming jurisdiction to hear the same dispute between parties.
“They also go ahead to deliver verdicts that are totally in conflict with one another,’’ he said.
He, therefore, said it was the collective duty of the bar and the bench to reverse the ugly trend.
Okporo said that the profession was relying on the new Senior Advocates to breed fresh ideas into the profession.
Also, Mahmoud expressed delight on the ongoing reform of the sector, adding that it must be sustained.
“It is not only the judiciary that requires reforms. Indeed the bar is an eminent candidate for reform.
“I am referring to the reform of the regulation of the legal profession.
“The recent public concern about the profession has forced many of us to think deeply on the current state of the legal profession and indeed how the profession is being regulated,’’ he said.
The event was attended by retired and serving justices, senior legal practitioners, politicians, traditional rulers as well as families and friends of the new Senior Advocates.