Group calls for abolition of simultaneous judges’ vacation, lawyers kick against calls
Group calls for abolition of simultaneous judges’ vacation, lawyers kick against calls

…Say judges cannot observe yearly leave like civil servants,

Critical stakeholders have continued to ponder over the need to appraise the usual practice whereby judges across the country observe their long vacation simultaneously in a year.

Some observers have kicked against the practice, pointing out its implications to justice delivery, while others said it has no serious effect as some have posited.

But some lawyers who bared their minds to newsmen said it is not possible for judges to observe their yearly leave like civil servants due to the exigencies of their work.

The long vacation of judges in the federation is observed yearly, under the provisions of Order 46 Rule 4 (a) of the Federal High Court Civil Procedure Rules, 2019 (as amended), while in Lagos State, the practice is observed under Order 4(b) of the High Court of Lagos Civil Procedure Rules, 2019.

During such vacations, the court will continue all other activities such as receiving court filings and signing of affidavits, and other documents but judges would generally not conduct sittings. Registrars and other court Clerks are always available to attend to inquiries and other necessary issues.

The provision of Order 49 Rule 4 (Supra) gives room for any cause or matter that may be heard by vacation judges. These judges, designated to entertain emergency cases, are permitted to sit during the period.

This long vacation usually marks the end of a legal year, in which the court resumes another legal year. The judiciary does observe this long vacation around July ending till August ending or at times till the middle of September. It is also the period judges devote for training and seminars.

However, some lawyers have persistently kicked against the call for the abolition of yearly simultaneous vacation, arguing that they (judges) should be observing their yearly leave like normal civil servants.

Those opposed to such an idea hinged their excuses on the fact that the responsibilities of judges are so demanding and accumulating that they would need such a long vacation to refresh.

In his view, Mr. Akeem Aponmade, a lawyer, said the vacation policy whereby most judges go on vacation at the same time at all levels of the courts and in all jurisdictions in the country, is of greater benefit to the bar than to the judges.He said it must also be appreciated that the judicial life is divided into legal years.

“This is a tradition that is part of our judicial system and has been practiced, I believe, since the inception of the English legal system in Nigeria. I am sure that only laymen and non-practising lawyers will ever think of judges going on leave like civil servants.

“Let me tell you that litigation is one of the most difficult tasks there ever is. And it is tough on both the bench and the bar. I want to view this matter from the perspective of a practising legal practitioner. In fact, I am of the firm belief that the present vacation policy where most judges go on vacation at the same time at all levels of courts and in all jurisdictions in the country is of greater benefit to the bar than to the judges.

“I wouldn’t know if it was instituted for the sake of lawyers rather than judges. Reason is that for a busy litigation lawyer, who has cases in several State High Courts and the FCT and several divisions of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, the courts going on long vacation at the same time means that the lawyer can also afford to plan his own vacation during the same period. This helps those of us engaging in daily litigation drills to avoid a burn out.

“Do you know the consequences of staggering the vacation? Lawyers will have no time to rest. We would have to work round the clock 12 months of the year. No lawyer would have been able to survive the tedious stress for 10 years without breaking down.

“There would be a high turnover of deaths, as our colleagues would be dropping dead like dead leaves. It must also be appreciated that the judicial life is divided into legal years. The beginning of the long vacation marks the end of a legal year and resumption after the vacation marks the commencement of a vand launch into another round of serious work,” he said.

But taking a different look at the issue, another lawyer, Mr. Tunde Abioje, decried the manner in which files are handled during simultaneous vacation of judges. He noted that some case files got lost in transit while being sent to the next vacation judge. Though our high court judges go on yearly leave together, to address urgent matters, the Chief Judge of each state is empowered under the State High Court rules and practice direction, to appoint vacation judges to avert any vacuum in the administration of justice.

“The only complaint or challenge here is that each of the vacation judges has only two weeks to deal with the case file before the file is sent to the next vacation judge in the course of which some files do get lost in transit.

“Again, another challenge here is the procurement of Enrolment of Court Order made during vacation. Lawyers do find it extremely difficult to get it and by the time it is finally obtained, the order has become stale/elapsed and the purpose of obtaining the order is defeated. What a wasted effort,” he lamented.

While he said judges’ yearly vacation should not be set as priority, another lawyer, Mr. Ige Asemudara, suggested that the Supreme Court should be empanelled and more judges appointed for the High Court. He noted that the work of judges is very tedious.

“My opinion is that there is nothing wrong with judges going on vacation at the same time. It has been the tradition that they inherited in England and the most commonwealth jurisdictions.

“The vacation is usually mid-July to the end of August or sometimes mid-September, depending on when they go on vacation. Why I said there is nothing wrong is because, during that period, judges will be able to rest. After all, the work of judges is very tedious. They are also humans with families like the rest of us.

“This is when they can have time for their families. During this period, schools are on vacation or holiday. This is when people go for summer or other holidays they observe in most parts of the world. Judges don’t have time for their children during the day. During the night, they are busy reading, preparing for cases, and writing rulings and judgments. On weekends, this is exactly what most of them do. They don’t have time for their families.

“It is during the vacation, when their children are out of school and they are also on vacation that they bond. Some of their children are in higher institutions, and on holidays during that period. Just like we have summer vacation in England. This is the period when most of us lawyers also rest as well. We have time to plan our lives. Lawyers too have time to travel since most courts are not in session during that period.

“You know lawyers can have cases in more than 50 courts across the country. For instance, I have a case in Ibadan, Oyo State, another case in Ondo, Lagos, and also another one in Kano, Port Harcourt, across the nation. I know that all of these cases cannot go on, that the court will not be sitting and my diary will be free for that period. If people are saying judges should go on leave like civil servants, it means the lawyers too should go on leave.

“Even if lawyers go on leave, they will still be attending to cases in other courts. Then the judges themselves will not have time to stay with their children and family, because their families or children may be in school when their leave falls. So, it then means that some of them will be sitting when their children will be at home during the holidays.”

He continued: “For me, it is better that way. What we need to do is to plan our calendar very well during that period. And I am aware that there is no time the Nigerian courts are completely shut down. We have vacation judges that sit on applications that are pressing. They sit on urgent matters. So people should not complain about the little time these judges have to take their rest. For instance, as I speak with you, the Constitution provides that the Supreme Court shall have not more than 21 justices.

“Now if we are having 21 judges to serve 36 states of the federation and FCT, you know it is a big workload coming from the 36 states. Now as we speak, I don’t think we have up to 15 justices of the Supreme Court. Each of the panel is of five people. The panel for constitutional matters has seven judges.

“The Supreme Court cannot be paneled into two bodies as we speak. So we don’t have enough judges on the bench of the Supreme Court. The Constitution envisages a situation whereby we have at least three panels because if we have 21 justices, it is divided into three panels, then we have seven in each panel. Cases going to the Supreme Court that are moving fast are only political. The pre-election matters and the post-election matters. All other cases are at a standstill.

“Even anti- corruption cases, and terrorism cases are at a standstill. For instance, I have Supreme Court cases that are from anti-corruption litigation that have been there for more than two years. I have five criminal cases, including murder that have been there for like five years, with no attention. So, the problem is that we don’t know what we want. That is our problem.

“What lawyers should seek is what interests the administration of justice in Nigeria. They should seek how the Supreme Court will be fully impaneled. Not only that, the persons so appointed should have the ability of the body and the soundness of mind. Concerning the judges, most of them by the time they get to the Supreme Court, are old and tired.

Some of them are in their mid or late 60’s. So we need younger, vibrant, and able hands to be appointed to the bench of the Supreme Court.”

Asemudara suggested that appointment to the Court of Appeal should be based on merit and very young judges that will be able to withstand the rigours of the work must be given the job. According to him, the problem with our judiciary is that most of the appointments are based on patronage. Hardly can you find a Nigerian judge who was appointed to the bench of the High Court without knowing somebody who knows somebody before he gets the appointment, he claimed.

“I am not saying that they do not qualify, but we are not allowing the system to run as it should. So we should rather concentrate on honesty, integrity, brilliance and capacity to work hard. Even the high court needs more judges. Lagos has a higher number of judges on the bench. During vacation, 70 per cent go on vacation, while the 20 sit as vacation judges to take urgent cases.”

“I don’t believe in judges going on leave like civil servants, and I don’t see any rationale behind it. What they should be interested in is having more hands, sound minds, competent hands,” he stressed.

Tajudeen Salami Agbaje, also a lawyer, did not subscribe to the call. According to him, asking judges to go on leave like other civil servants is not proper. He posited that the litigants before the court would suffer.

In his words, judges’ work is not like other civil servants. So, asking judges to go on monthly leave like a civil servant cannot work.

“In the civil service, if somebody goes on leave, another person will be there to continue the job. No judge will step into another judge’s shoes. I want to believe that the status quo remains. You cannot equate the court with civil servants setting.

“The civil servants have a way of doing their things, once a person is not there, another person takes over and the system keeps running. But if a judge is not there, the litigants will suffer. If the court is on vacation, and you have an urgent matter, it will be heard during vacation. You cannot take part of the system to judge the whole system. I think that is unnecessary interruption.

“The work of judges is so demanding and accumulating with tasks. Unfortunately, they are not appreciated the way they should be. It is a very top off job. When I hear people condemning or talking bad about them, I feel so sad.”

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