THE Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen on Monday disclosed that some lawyers, in their desperate bid to get the prestigious rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) forged court judgments to qualify for nomination for the rank.
Speaking at a special court session of the Supreme Court to mark the commencement of the 2018/2019 legal year and swearing in of newly conferred SAN, Justice Onnoghen said the forged judgments were part of the requisite conditions submitted to the Legal Practitioners and Privileges Committee (LPPC) for scrutiny.
The CJN said the desperate legal practitioners were caught by the eagle eyes of the LPPC members during the screening exercise and added that, even though the names of the offending lawyers were not made public, they have been reported to police and they were apprehended for interrogation.
Justice Onnoghen further disclosed that the arrested lawyers would soon be prosecuted for offence of criminal forgery among others and added that, “I have to point out the fact that in the just-concluded exercise, some applicants were found to have engaged in dishonourable conduct such as forgery of judgment, resulting in their being reported to the police for investigation and possible prosecution.
“I would like at this point to thank the distinguished members of the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee tasked with this assignment of scrutinising over 4,000 judgments, trial proceedings and publications and at the same time conduct disciplinary proceedings on petitions received against Senior Advocates of Nigeria,” he said.
As the country prepares for the 2019 general elections, the CJN said the Judiciary will be independent and will resolve electoral disputes without fear or favour.
The CJN called on lawyers and Judges to resist attempts by a rapacious elite to make justice a commercial commodity, adding that, “We must accept that acts of misconduct of a few rub off on the rest of the judiciary and create the impression that all judicial officers have their hands soiled with the proceeds of corruption.”
To enhance the administration of justice in the country, the CJN said a National Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure, made up of Judicial Officers, lawyers, academics and the National Judicial Institute (NJI), will be constituted.
The CJN also said that the Rules of Practice and procedure should provide for e-filing to be done either by courts or by external management service providers and noted that the Supreme Court will continue to strive for speedy disposal of cases that come before it.
The CJN disclosed that, the apex court, in the course of the 2017/2018 legal year, considered 1,540 matters comprising motions, appeals and judgments.
Under motions, he said the court heard 824 civil and 273 criminal motions, totalling 1097, adding also that the Court considered 438 appeals, comprising 246 Civil and 192 Criminal.
Justice Onnoghen said a total of 297 Judgments were delivered by the close of the 2017/2018 legal year, a development, he noted was, by all means, an impressive report considering the persistent and increasing volume of cases that continue to come before the Court.
The CJN called on the Bar and the Bench to ensure that they play their roles in restoring ethics to the legal profession and that the National Executive Committee of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) should prescribe and enforce sanctions for members who address journalists while fully robbed, and making comments on cases that are ongoing in court.
He charged the new SAN to show great leadership, integrity, humility, exemplary character and be a role model to all aspiring lawyers and the public at large.
Speaking on the state of the nation, the CJN warned that those in power must not lose sight of the indispensable role of the judiciary in the fight against corruption, adding that the fight against corruption is not the responsibility of any particular arm of government but that of every citizen of Nigeria.
According to him corruption or any other form of injustice thrives in a culture of impunity, adding that to carry out a successful campaign against corruption, “We have to fight with the culture of impunity which is an attitudinal phenomenon. If we allow and respect the rule of law, then there will be a drastic reduction in corruption and injustice.
Also speaking at the occasion, Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), appealed to judges to brace up to challenges that would come their ways before, during and after the forthcoming general elections.
Malami said as part of efforts to make the judiciary truly independent, President Muhammadu Buhari has accented to the constitutional amendment which now makes money due to the judiciary in the annual budget to be paid directly to the Heads of courts.
In his own remarks, Chief Onomigbo Okpoko (SAN), who spoke on behalf of Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria, warned lawyers against resorting to distortion of issues and facts or manufacturing of evidence to confuse judges to vet undeserved favourable judgment for their clients, especially politicians engaging in litigation wars.
Okpoko appealed to lawyers to always render advise to their clients no matter how wealthy, against engaging in cases that cannot be supported with fact in courts.
Of the 31 legal practitioners nominated for the award of the Rank of SAN on 12th July, 2018, only 30 were conferred with the prestigious rank, based on a petition against one of the awardees, Ikhide Ehighilua, Esq and by virtue of Section 5(1) of the Legal Practitioners Act, CAP L11, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 as amended, the Legal Practitioners’ Privileges Committee at an emergency meeting held on Thursday, 20th September, 2018, to consider the petition, and the written reply by the respondent, decided to withdraw the nomination of Ikhide Ehighilua, Esq for the conferment of the Rank of SAN.
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