1st March 2016

The Guardian

‘Sanctity of the Supreme Court must be preserved, respected’

We have to be extremely careful so that we protect not only the judiciary but also our country’s democracy.

Abubakar Bararabe Mahmoud (SAN)

THE Supreme Court is the highest court in the land. But that does not mean that its decisions cannot be criticized. Decisions of the Supreme Court can be criticized. One can disagree with a Supreme Court’s judgment, but it must be a healthy debate. Academic critics can take up the matter when decisions are given.

We must remember that the legal profession is not a profession for lawyers and judges alone. What lawyers and judges do with the practice of law, affect the lives of fellow citizens. These people are the ones who tell us the outcomes of what we do so that we can change direction to where we are going.

In my view, we can disagree with the decisions of the Supreme Court, but we must respect them coming from the highest court in the land. We do not need to begin to call judges names or abuse them over their judgments. If we behave decently to the judges, they will understand and accept criticisms of their judgments in good faith.

If there are allegations that certain judicial officers have compromised their positions, such allegations should be directed to the appropriate quarters. The National Judicial Council (NJC) is there to take all complaints and deal with the allegations appropriately. If anyone is found guilty, he or she is sanctioned according to laid down rules.

Kemi Pinheiro (SAN)

Nigeria politicians are very poor losers. Every judgment that they won is a sound judgment, any judgment they lose they start reading meanings into it. We have to be extremely careful so that we protect not only the judiciary but also our country’s democracy.

The judiciary remains the bulwark that stabilizes the polity. I found it very reprehensive and extremely condemnable in line with the statement issued by the NBA that politicians were so irresponsibly attacking the justices of the Supreme Court just because they lost their cases. The truth is that those politicians need to be warned that it is even contemptuous of the court for them to make such kind of irresponsible statements against the judgment of the Supreme Court.

Maybe, it is about time, the court started thinking about making provisions for contemptuous statements in relation to proceedings and judgments. Maybe that will act as a deterrent.

The point to be made is that in any judgment, anybody is entitled to give a comment or criticism of the judgment, so long as the criticism is intellectual, fair and not abusive or it does not amount to an attack to the persons of those judges. A judgment is a public document, it exhumes the wisdom and the legal pronouncement of the court. So you can make comments so long as it does not amount to a verbal or an unguided attack on the persons of the justices of the Supreme Court. You are entitled to your opinion but the Supreme Court remains the final court, as a final court not because they are not infallible but they are final and they are infallible.

The point is that you can tell by the antecedent of some of those commentators, I called them commentators; they hide under the guise of giving public comments in relation to the judgment to de-mask their political linings under the guise of giving public comments of a judgment

But if you look at their antecedents and their patterns of comments of course, you will see that their patterns are always jaundiced with respect to their political view. So people who are right-minded often discountenance their views as it were. But then, it is also important that we exercise some level of caution whether you have a political inclination or not, you need to exercise caution because whatever comment you make from the vantage position that you are a senior counsel or as a politician, you have followers. You are a leader, you have people who are looking up to you and so the primary responsibility of a leader is not to create an explosive situation but to calm whatever that they have around from any disagreement with the judgment.

Joseph Otteh, (Esq.) executive director, Access to Justice

“Criticisms of judicial decisions, no matter from which court, are actually healthy civic responses in a democracy and are part of a culture of engagement with power. People have the right to disagree with (even) Supreme Court Judges and we see this in many democracies. Judges are not infallible, neither are those who criticize them as well; so we must continue this robust engagement to search out the truth. What is dangerous is to charge that Judges or Justices have been under some kind of inappropriate influences only because you disagree with their judgments.

Even when you unpack the partisan political context, I can understand the passions excited about the Supreme Court judgments, because people are disappointed that we, once again, validate outcomes from very flawed and widely reported to be so- processes. Many had hoped that we had gotten to the point where our courts and our jurisprudence have become institutionally intolerant of anything that undermines democratic choices made by voters. In other words, that we had irreversibly reached the point where the law follows the facts. The Supreme Court has, somehow, mediated a different balance. It is not about which party lost or won, but about the integrity of the democratic process.

Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa (Esq.)

The role of the Supreme Court under the Constitution is to be the final arbiter of all legal issues. And I do not think it is when the decision or ruling of the Supreme Court did not come the way of our expectation that we should begin to criticize such decision.

“So far, the decisions of the Supreme Court is guided by both the Constitution and electoral Acts. And in the Electoral Acts, the sole determinant of numbers of votes, accreditation and voting is the voter’s register, that is the document that determines participation in an election and card reader is a supplementary devise to authenticate the sanctity of the voters register.

The Supreme court was right by the judgment and no court can void an election based on card reader.
Secondly, once a decision is reached by the Supreme Court, the Constitution regards such as final and it is not subject to appeal or review.

My advice to the Supreme Court is to see these criticisms as part of the vicissitudes of its duty and that it should continue to stand firm on the side of the law and its conscience. I commend the CJN and all the judges who contributed to the laudable decisions of the Supreme Court.

I think the Supreme Court saved the country from an imminent danger by those decisions because there was desperation on the part of the ruling party to take at all cost those states.

I wish they will treat subsequent petitions that will come in 2019 in accordance to the law and their conscience.

The judiciary has become a subject of attack because those who want to toe the part of dictatorship have seen a stumbling block in the judiciary.

Going by the military antecedents of President Buhari, it would have been ‘fine’ to arrest these suspects and put them in jail, but that cannot be possible. To protect the judiciary, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), must rise because the legal profession is a conservative one, such that judges can only be seen, they cannot be heard. They cannot comment publicly either on their welfare or hazards of the job.

We know judges who are directly intimidated, accused and threatened in order to do the bidding of the government.

I admonish the NBA to see judges as their brothers by rising up to protect them from being victims of executive lawlessness, interferences and neglect.

There must be need to ensure the independence of the judiciary such that judges can draw their salaries from the office of the Accountant General and not the Ministry of Justice.

Another way of ensuring the sanctity of the judiciary is that NBA should set a procedure by which judgments and decisions of courts are not subjected to media trial because such may sway the judgments or decisions of the judges.

Ikechukwu Ikeji (Esq.) Lead Advocate (CRAI)

Lawyers are ministers in the temple of justice. The role of lawyers as ministers in the temple of justice is to always assist the court in arriving at a just and valid decision in its judgments and rulings. Lawyers must ensure that the sanctity of the hallowed chambers of the judiciary is upheld at all times. Lawyers must refrain from doing anything or acting in any way as to denigrate the integrity and respect of the courts.

According to Rule 1(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners in Nigeria, 2007, “It is the duty of the lawyer to maintain towards the Court respectful attitude, not for the sake of the temporary incumbent of the judicial office, but for the maintenance of its supreme importance. Judges, not being wholly free to defend themselves, are peculiarly entitled to receive the support of the Bar against unjust criticism and clamour. Where there is proper ground for serious complaint of a judicial officer, it is the right and duty of the lawyer to submit his grievances to the proper authorities. In such cases, but not otherwise, such charges should be encouraged and the person making them should be protected.”

Rule 24 of the same Rules of Professional Conduct also makes an elaborate provision on the general duties of a lawyer, as follows:

“Lawyers are duty bound to uphold the law; and no service or advice ought to be rendered or given by them to clients, corporate or individual, of any description or to any cause whatsoever involving disloyalty to the law or bringing disrespect upon the holder of any judicial office or involving corruption of holders of any public office. Improper service or advice in such circumstances as aforesaid is unethical and merits strong condemnation as unprofessional conduct. On the other hand, service or advice rendered or given that not only accords with the letter of the law but also embraces moral principle cannot be too highly commended. He must also observe and advise his client to observe the statute law, save that until a statute has been construed and interpreted by competent adjudication, he is free and is entitled to advise as to its validity and as to what he conscientiously believes to be its just meaning and extent. Above all, a lawyer finds his highest honour in a deserved reputation for fidelity to private trust and to public duty, as an honest man and as a patriotic and loyal citizen.”

As can be seen from the above provisions, the lawyers’ work and duties are well cut out. Criticising judges when you lose cases is a breach of the Rules of Professional Conduct. It is allowed for a lawyer to criticise a decision or the rationale behind the decision but not to criticise the judges who reached the decision.