Stakeholders in the judiciary have on many occasions called the attention of the National Judicial Council (NJC), to the need for a reform in the sector.
They note that the reform should focus on attaining transparency and merit, especially in the appointment of judges.
According to them, the processes leading to the appointment of judges are being somewhat abused.
At the Judicial Reform Conference held in Abuja recently entitled: “Putting our Best Foot Forward, the Judiciary and the Challenges of Satisfying Justice Needs of the 21st Century,’’ they reinforced the advocacy for the reform.
The conference was organised by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in collaboration with the Nigerian Bar Association, Access to Justice and NJC.
More than 200 participants, representing the Bar and Bench; civil society organisations, the media, academics and the international community participated in the conference.
UNODC Country Representative Mariam Sissoko, in her remarks, said that the ability to monitor and evaluate the performance of the judiciary is an important component of judicial reform.
“Public confidence in a free, fair and impartial judiciary is enhanced when the public is aware of the process by which judges and magistrates are selected.
“The confidence is further enhanced when the public is assured that there is oversight in the manner in which the judiciary dispenses justice,’’ she said.
The participants highlighted the need for an independent judiciary as a pre-requisite for enhancing the performance of the justice sector in Nigeria.
They insisted that the adjudication of cases must occur within an environment free of interference from the other branches of government, and from private or partisan interests.
Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, said: “There seems to be a reluctance to recognise the judiciary as an arm of the state that ought to enjoy independence.
“The judiciary needs that independence so as to be able to speak out on matters that affect the nation which have not been properly handled.’’
Justice Mariam Aloma-Mukhtar, Chief Justice of Nigeria, encouraged the Bar and Bench to work together in ensuring judicial independence.
“The problems in the judiciary cannot be solved without the collaboration of the Bar and Bench; we should try as much as possible to stand against interference from the other two arms of government,’’ she said.
Aloma-Mukhtar also said that the NJC would soon publish new guidelines for the appointment of judges in line with the on-going judicial reforms.
In his remarks, Chief Okey Wali (SAN), former President of NBA, said the association should play important roles in the process of appointing judges.
“Nobody should be appointed a judicial officer without the consent of the NBA; whether from the Bar or Bench.
“The Bar knows its members, what we desire is a quality Bench for speedy dispensation of justice.
“The NBA, therefore, repeats our call that practicing lawyers and distinguished dons should be appointed judges or justices of the High Courts, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
“Politicising judicial appointments and interference by politicians constitute the greatest danger to the appointment of quality judges,’’ he said.
On his part, Prof. Clement Dakas (SAN) of the Faculty of Law, University of Jos, called for an open, transparent and `vacancy-advertised’ process of judicial appointments to inspire public confidence.
He advised that Nigeria should borrow a leaf from Kenya and South Africa, observing that in Nigeria, vacancies are not advertised.
“Candidates are not interviewed whether in private or in public, vacancies are usually circulated only in the legal community.
“The Federal and State Judicial Service Commissions and Judicial Service Committee of the FCT, as the case may be, must advertise the names of short-listed candidates to invite public scrutiny and comments.
“This list must be forwarded along with qualifications and other documents, including any public comments, to the NJC so that the best candidates are appointed,’’ Dakas said.
He suggested that the recommendations of the former CJN, Justice Lawal Uwais’ Stakeholders Judicial Reform Committee should be fully adopted and implemented with additional insights from Kenya and South Africa.
Corroborating this viewpoint, Chief Kunle Uthman, Commissioner, Lagos Judicial Service Commission, said reforms in the judiciary were necessary to protect the integrity of the sector.
He said that a process whereby only serving judges are allowed to nominate candidates for appointment as judges was faulty.
“It is my recommendation that the Federal Judicial Service Commission and NJC should review the present process of selection of judges and make it merit-driven, open and transparent,’’ he said.
The stakeholders, therefore, at the end of the conference, unanimously agreed to demand for a review of the guidelines for judges’ appointment.
They observed that the guidelines would encourage a more transparent, competitive and merit-based system.
“The ongoing review of the appointment process by the NJC should include a participatory process that will ultimately lead to a transparent appointment of persons of integrity and eliminate corruption.
“The Judicial Service Commissions should resist undue influence from different segments of the society to ensure that competent candidates are appointed,’’ the participants stated in a communiqué issued at the end of the conference.
For effective reform, the participants resolved that the NJC should recommend the prosecution of corrupt judges by anti-corruption agencies, insisting that the image of the country will be enhance with a reformed judiciary system. NAN