In its bid to halt further exposure of the country’s legal system to ridicule, the Body of Benchers has set up a high-powered committee headed by a former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, to look into the spate of conflicting court judgments in the country, and other related problems that affect the courts.
This was disclosed by the representative of the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN), Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN), at the Special Court session held recently in honour of the late Justice Edith Nneka Neolita Agbakoba.
Ngige, who is the current Chairman of the Council of Legal Education, disclosed that members of the committee include heads of federal and state courts, including the President of the National Industrial Court, Benchers drawn from BOSAN and some retired judicial officers who are Benchers.
The Body of Benchers is the legal body of practitioners of the highest distinction in the legal profession, which is responsible for the formal call to the Bar of persons seeking to become legal practitioners as well as disciplining of erring lawyers. The body is currently chaired by a retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Mary Peter Odili
According to Ngige, the Body of Benchers decided at its last meeting held on Thursday, November 30, 2023.
He added that the issue of conflicting judgments emanating from the courts reached an embarrassing level in the pre-election and post-election litigation in the various courts and tribunals in the country.
According to him, the issue of conflicting court judgments has continued to weaken the settled doctrine of stare decisis.
Ngige noted that without precedents, there would be no certainty in the law, as everybody within the judicial hierarchy would be entitled to render a decision or give a judgment as he or she thinks or wishes.
He commended the Body of Benchers for its timely intervention and expressed the hope that a lasting solution would be worked out to arrest the ugly trend.
He stated that the committee’s work should be widely publicised to enable members of the Bench and Bar, including members of the public who have useful suggestions on how to arrest the ugly trend to have the opportunity to make their inputs.
“We shall not conclude this speech without commenting on the troublesome and recurring issue of conflicting judgments emanating from our courts.
“This ugly trend has reached its crescendo in the pre-election and post-election litigation in our various courts and tribunals.
“This trend continues to weaken the settled doctrine of stare decisis in our courts. It has become a matter of grave concern to many practising lawyers and a large extent, to members of the Bench.
“Concerned legal icons like Dr. Olisa Agbakoba have spoken about it. It should stressed that the entire legal profession in Nigeria, and indeed, globally, flourishes and prides itself with the doctrine of stare decisis, otherwise known as precedents.
“Without precedents, there would be no certainty in law; everything would be fluid; while everybody within the judicial hierarchy would be entitled to render a decision or give a judgment as he thinks or wishes. Good enough, the entire Nigerian legal profession keys into this ancient doctrine of stare decisis and our legal system is firmly anchored on it.
“This ugly trend did not start today and the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigerian (BOSAN) had cause to set a committee on the issue after our emergency meeting held in January 2019 at the Nigerian Law School Lagos.
A letter signed by our then Chairman, Prof. Ben Nwabueze (SAN) (now of blessed memory) containing the summary of the committee’s work and recommendations was later sent to the then Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen, in the same January 2019. Unfortunately before the then Chief Justice of Nigeria could act on the letter and recommendations, he was forced out of office.
“The situation remains as it was in 2019 and has now taken a dangerous turn with the spate of conflicting judgments emanating from trial courts and tribunals, the Court of Appeal and even the Supreme Court.
“Concerned with this turn of events, the Body of Benchers under the leadership of Hon Justice Mary Peter-Odili (rtd) at its last meeting held on Thursday the 30th of November 2023 resolved to set up a high-powered committee to look into the issue of conflicting judgments and other related problems in our courts.
“The committee is incidentally headed by a past Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen, with different heads of federal and state courts, including the President of this honourable court, Benchers drawn from the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria and some retired judicial officers who are Benchers.
“We wish to use this medium to commend the Body of Benchers for its timely intervention and hope that a lasting solution will be worked out to arrest the ugly trend.
“We suggest that the committee’s work should be widely publicised so that members of the Bench and Bar including members of the public who have useful suggestions on how to arrest the ugly trend would have the opportunity to make their inputs,” Ngige explained.
Earlier in his speech, Ngige had described the late Justice Edith Agbakoba as a dedicated judicial officer who proved her mettle with the various judgments she delivered.
He noted that the late Jurist dispensed justice with fear of God and was never hindered by rules of technicality,
adding that she belonged to the school of thought that believed that justice should be dispensed by recourse to substantial justice rather than on mere technicalities.
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