Some lawyers have expressed divergent views on the submission of the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Tanko Muhammad, to reduce the number of Supreme Court justices from 21 to 16.
The Nigerian News Agency (NAN) reports that the CJN presented on June 3 to the Senate Committee on the Revision of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended, a 45-point constitutional proposal on reforms. courts for amendment.
Some jurists, who spoke to the Nigerian News Agency (NAN) in Abuja, disagreed with Muhammad that the number of judges should be reduced to 16.
According to Mr. Abdulhamid Mohammed, lawyer, instead of reducing the number, the judges of the supreme court should be increased to ensure a rapid dispensation of cases.
“Sometimes lawyers differ from judges’ opinions. As a practitioner, the fact is that the Supreme Court is overwhelmed at the moment.
“Every correlative issue you appeal on, you take it to the Supreme Court; divorce cases go to the Supreme Court, land cases go to the Supreme Court, and so on, with the exception of Labor Court cases which end at the Court of Appeal.
“So the Supreme Court is overwhelmed, especially when there are questions of election petitions to the Supreme Court.
“So you will see throughout the legal year, these cases that go to the Supreme Court, the judges might not even deal with them because they are overwhelmed,” he said.
Mohammed also argued that even the current number, at times, hampered the constitution of panels.
“Sometimes you go to the Supreme Court and find that a panel that’s supposed to deal with a particular case, the panel may not be fully constituted.
“Then they have to go back and put together this panel and what caused that is actually due to the number of judges which is not enough in my humble opinion,” he added.
The lawyer noted that the Supreme Court has three courtrooms and that so many cases are brought to court.
“The situation justifies that in each civil appeal, they go to the Supreme Court; criminal appeal, they go to the Supreme Court and even interlocutory appeal, they go to the Supreme Court.
“This is why the Supreme Court is inundated with so many appeals. Therefore, before an appeal is determined to the Supreme Court, it can take years, ”he said.
According to him, these bodies in my humble opinion, it is only to increase the number of judges who will deal with this.
“Currently, there is even a bill in the National Assembly to ensure the well-being of judges and their retirement age.
“We must therefore even increase the number of Supreme Court judges,” he reiterated.
Mohammed said some people have advocated that the Supreme Court be divided into divisions to facilitate a swift dispensation of justice.
“Some even ask that we balkanize the Supreme Court so that the court sits in judicial divisions, not necessarily in the central place where they currently sit.
“They should have judicial divisions so that they can speed things up,” he said.
Additionally, Lagos-based lawyer Joséphine Uzoya-Ijekhuemen said she did not agree with the submission.
Corroborating Mohammed’s statement, Uzoya-Ijekhuemen said: “As it stands, the court is already overwhelmed and we do not have the required number of judges so far.”
“So reducing them further is not a good idea and will only lead to difficulties and delays, which is not good for justice.”
Another lawyer, Ede Joshua-Oritsegbemi, opposed the CJN’s proposal, seeking to reduce the number of Supreme Court justices.
“With deep respect for His Lordship, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, I do not agree that the number of Supreme Court justices should be reduced from 21 to 16.
“My sincere opinion is that the number of judges be increased beyond 21,” he said.
Joshua-Oritsegbemi, a civil rights activist, also said that rather than reducing their numbers, the constitution should be amended to ensure that the Supreme Court has judicial divisions.
“The Supreme Court should have other judicial divisions of at least one (1) in each geopolitical area of Nigeria.
“The national headquarters should be in Abuja,” he urged.
According to him, the idea is based on the volume, quality and contentious nature of our cases.
“Therefore, we cannot afford to do otherwise comfortably and reasonably in this current reality we are facing,” he said.
Lawyers, who supported the CJN on amending the 1999 Constitution to mandate the National Judicial Council to set and review judges’ salaries every four years, however, disagreed with him on the suggestions that all appeals from the Court of Appeal should be allowed The Supreme Court.
For Mohammed, revising judges’ salaries would improve their social benefits and increase their productivity.
He said it was disheartening that the salaries of most court workers were stagnant.
According to him, the salary of a high court judge does not even fluctuate; the judge can stay 15 to 20 years in the judiciary but the salary will still remain stagnant unlike other allowances and certain benefits.
He said unless the judge is promoted to the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court, the base salary will remain stagnant.
Uzoya-Ijekhuemen said the submission would give more independence to the National Judicial Council and perhaps help promote that financial autonomy “necessary for the independence of the judiciary which should be a separate branch as defined by the principle separation of powers “.
Joshua-Oritsegbemi also supported the CJN’s point of view on setting and reviewing judges’ salaries.
“I agree with His Lordship, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, that the NJC should be the constitutionally mandated body to set and review the salaries of judges and magistrates should be included in my humble opinion ) in conjunction with the Revenue Mobilization and Tax Allowance Commission (RMAFC) every four years, ”he said. (NAN)
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