CHIEF Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, has absolved the Judiciary of blame over the perceived slow dispensation of justice in the country, saying that it is not the one guilty of arresting before fishing for evidence to prosecute.
Speaking to State House correspondents after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday, he said it is not that cases are not tried expeditiously because judges are not there or refuse to hear them and deliver judgment but that all those involved tend to seek adjournments.
Asked to respond to claims that the Judiciary is not doing enough to ensure speedy trial of cases, he said: “Now, l believe that you know, with your experience of many years of practice that there has never been situation in which any case was taken to court and decided upon and the Judge was not there to listen to the case, or having finished hearing, he refused to deliver judgement.
“So, when cases are not tried expeditiously and the Judge is there, ready to listen to the case, you come and for one reason or the other, you take a date to adjourn the case, and the court grants the adjournment which is normal during proceedings, you cannot turn round and blame the Judge for that. These the basic things that everybody must know. We must all work together, cooperate for the system to move forward.
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“But if you keep thinking that the Judiciary is the culprit in this delay process, you are not telling the whole story.
“It is not the judiciary that would go and arrest someone before looking for evidence. It is not the judiciary that would go into investigations. No, we do not operate the inquisitional mode of justice as it is practised by the French. Our own is that an independent body must investigate, prosecute while the judge decides.”
Justice Onnoghen who said he was at the presidential villa to felicitate and interact with President Buhari on his return from the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), also said he is happy with the performance of judges so far just as he reiterated that he set up the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption (COMPRECO) to enhance the process of justice dispensation.
He added: “Yes. So far, so good. Under the circumstances, l must admit that so far, so good. It is in order to enable you to know the workings of the system that l set up the COMPRECO (Commission for the Prevention of Corruption) committee.
“All along, everybody is passing the buck. The prosecution will say ‘it is not our responsibility, we are not the cause of the delay;’ the investigator will say ‘l am not the cause;’ the Judge will say, ‘l am not the cause.’ So, the people must know who is the cause of the delay. That was why l set up that committee. And it is made up of both the defence counsel, the prosecutor and the Judiciary under the NJC.”
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On whether the judiciary is on the same page with the Executive on the fight against corruption, the CJN answered in the affirmative, saying: “I have answered that before and l still say the same thing. We are on the same page with the Executive. There are three arms of government and these three arms constitute the government. The government is not only the Executive.”
He also spoke on the idea of setting up of special courts for corruption cases, noting that as far as that is concerned, the ball is in the courts of the Executive and the Legislature.
According to him, “It is the Executive in conjunction with the Legislature that has the prerogatives of setting up Courts, including the Special Courts, under our Constitution and not the Judiciary. Once the Executive set up such Courts, the Judiciary will run not by providing the manpower.”
Similarly, Justice Onnoghen spoke on the effort to decongest the prisons, adding: “You are seeing everything being done on the issue. Next week, we are continuing with our action. But there is one thing you need to know. There is the physical constraint about the congestion itself.
“How many were to be contained in a prison room and how many are there now.
“Secondly, you should also know that the actual prisoners are fewer compared with the total number you see there.
“This where the issue of awaiting trial comes in and that is the aspect where prison decongestion is working on and l can assure you that this is being handled.“
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