In an apparent response to Vanguard Law and Human Rights publication on retiring justices of the Supreme Court, the House of Representatives last week called on President Muhammadu Buhari to appoint eight more justices to bring the number of justices to 21 as allowed by the constitution.
Many senior lawyers have since backed the call by the House, insisting that appointment of more justices to the apex court would help reduce the workload of jurists and ensure efficient management and disposition of cases. Here are the views expressed by the senior lawyers.
Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN
This is very important as the workload of the Supreme Court is very heavy.
Prof Ernest Ojukwu, SAN
The call for the appointment of additional justices to make up the constitutionally provided number of 21 justices is an additional impetus to solving the problems of snail speed justice and access at the Supreme Court.
The truth is that our Supreme Court Justices are overworked but the ultimate solution to the problem cannot come just by the appointment of additional justices. The United States Supreme Court is made up of only nine justices and cases there do not take decades to end. There are two-pronged solutions that will solve the problem of congestion, snail-speed justice and the ultimate overburden on the justices of the Supreme Court.
One is self-solution. As far as I am concerned the complaint of overwork by the Justices is also self-imposed. They should stop shedding crocodile tears and do the needful to solve their problems.
The Supreme Court is the final court. Whatever they say becomes law. It is left to them to interpret the Constitutional provisions in a way that divests them of the burden of taking up all manner of cases in the guise of appeal.
There is a provision for leave to appeal in many aspects of their jurisdiction. Why have they not imposed restrictive interpretation on this provision and why are they not rejecting many more cases than they have done so far? This is the weapon used by the Supreme Court of the US.
They decide which case merits hearing and which does not. Our Justices of the Supreme Court can do better than they have done with their powers of interpretation. It does not matter that it is not what they are used to. The times have changed. They should change with the times too.
In addition to their self-imposed burden, it is the same Supreme Court that lobbied for additional jurisdiction some years back when they sought and obtained constitutional amendments to have the jurisdiction to hear appeals from the Governorship election petitions. That jurisdiction foisted on itself by itself is the greatest challenge to justice delivery in the country today.
The Supreme Court virtually spends more than one-year hearing appeals from Governorship elections over and above other important disputes including human rights, and commercial disagreements. The second way out is to go all out for a constitutional amendment that will terminate over 75% of the current cases that go to the Supreme Court at the Court of Appeal.
In addition, I think we should restrict the present Court of Appeal to appeals on Federal matters and give them powers to determine when to take interlocutory appeals, while at the same time creating State Appeal Courts where most state matters should end other than cases where sentences of death has been imposed.
Chief Solo Akuma, SAN
I would support the appointment of 8 Justices of the Supreme Court without delay in order to have full complement of the Justices of that court. However, the said appointment will not solve the problems of too many Appeals to be handled by the court.
The best way to solve the problem of having so many cases at the Supreme Court is to reduce the subject matter of cases that terminate at the Supreme Court or in the alternative create Zonal Supreme Court.
Layi Babatunde, SAN
Filling the existing vacancies in our apex court with the right caliber of justices, will no doubt obviate the avoidable burden being piled on overworked justices of that unrivaled court. Not doing so over the years is beginning to look like a punitive measure, which should not be.
The additional appointments are long overdue & there can be no better time than now when more justices are on their way out. It’s a good thing to do and Nigeria should not always be short of good things.
Sebastine Hon, SAN
It is a very welcome development. Section 230(2) of the 1999 Constitution as amended stipulates that a maximum of 21 Justices be appointed for the Supreme Court. Presently, we have just about 13 of them.
If we juxtapose this with the thousands of cases on the Supreme Court docket, we would realise that the learned Justices of the apex Court are overburdened, to say the very least. Not only that, looking at the retirement age of justices of that court, we must further accept that we have an aging Judex.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, I.T. Tanko, is 66 plus, having been born in December 1953. Then, both Rhodes-Vivour, JSC and Ngwuta, JSC are 69, to retire next year.
“Justice Paul Galinje will retire this April, while both Justices Mary Peter-Odili and Ejembi Eko will retire in 2022, to be followed by Justices I.T. Muhammad (CJN), M.D. Muhammad and Amina Augie, who will both retire in 2023.
You can, therefore, see that right between April 2020 and 2023, eight Justices of the summit Court will exit that Court. The earlier fresh hands are injected into the system, the better. This will make our outgoing Justices blend better with their incoming colleagues, for better justice administration. Clearly, therefore, the advantages of appointing more Justices far outweigh the reverse of it.
Lawal Pedro, SAN
The appointment of more justices to have the full complement of 21 justices for the Supreme Court is a constitutional requirement. Therefore there should be no debate about this. I also do not see any reason for propping or pleading with the appropriate authorities to exercise their power under the constitution for the benefit of the county as a whole and litigants having appeals in the court in particular.
I, however, have my doubts if having full complement of justices of the Supreme Court will solve the challenges facing the court and litigants having cases in the court. As there are many appeals of 10years old and above yet to be determined not due to the fault of the justices but the existing structure and system.
We, therefore, need to start thinking of restructuring the judicial system in the country by which each State will have its Supreme Court and not all natures or manners of cases will come to the Supreme Court for determination.
Quakers Norrison, SAN
Quite frankly the appointment of additional justices for the apex court is long overdue. The current CJN recently stated that the court is inundated with appeals. I believe the full complement of 21 justices as prescribed by the Constitution will ease the apex court of the current burden.
I commend the President, who has also expressed his desire for the need to appoint more justices for the Supreme Court. However, Section 153 of the Constitution which established the National Judicial Council, CJN, is vested with the power to recommend suitably qualified persons to the President for appointment as judicial officers, who in turn is constitutionally required to forward such names to the Senate for confirmation.
The intervention by the House of Representatives by asking the President to appoint new justices is not within the purview of the President’s powers as donated by the Constitution but the NJC, being the body empowered constitutionally under Section 21 of the third schedule to make recommendations to the President for appointment of judicial officers save this power is exercised the President cannot.
John Odubela, SAN
I think this is very key, necessary and urgent for the administration of justice in Nigeria, particularly at the apex court. Recent events and occurrences have shown that our apex court is overburdened with cases particularly pre and post-election matters. The court is overburdened with the level of so many appeals which are pending.
I believe if we have the full compliments of the court it will help in getting more panels that will dispose of some of these pending appeals. It’s therefore important that the necessary arms of government and bodies should take appropriate steps towards ensuring that we have full compliments of the court.
Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN
I urge the President to urgent act upon the recommendations of the National Judicial Council by confirming the names of Justices recommended for elevation to the Supreme Court. The delay is affecting the performances of the apex court.
“There is no reason why, after so many months upon the recommendation of the NJC that the President has not taken steps to act upon it, by acting on it. I have noticed that this attitude of the Presidency is peculiar to the judiciary as in other cases, appointments are done with alacrity.
Beyond these appointments, however, is the need to streamline the workload of the Supreme Court, to filter out some causes, as the Supreme Court should not be burdened with some local issues that should ordinarily end in the Court of Appeal, especially criminal matters and interlocutory appeals.”
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