IMO: The Judiciary, according to Black’s Law dictionary, 8th edition, is “The branch of government responsible for interpreting the laws and administering justice”.
In Nigeria, the establishment and powers of the Judiciary are enshrined in Section 6 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as Amended).
There are three organs of government. They are the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. In the three arms of government, the Executive and the Legislature have elected members, whilst the Judiciary has no elected members. The Magistrates and the Judges in the Judiciary are appointed based on merit. The doctrine of separation of powers is a cardinal feature of a democratic government. The doctrine was introduced by a French Political Philosopher, Baron de Montesquieu for the protection of people from dictatorship. This keeps the three arms of government in check. No arm of government exploits its powers without the scrutiny of the other arms.
The Judiciary, the world over, is regarded as the last hope of the common man. This presupposes that it is the only place the common man can get justice! Where dispute arises, and parties can not settle it as between themselves, their kinsmen or mediators, resort to the Honourable Court would be the remedy and ideal. The function of the Judiciary is not to twist the truth or fabricate facts, but is to interpret the law. The consequence of the interpretation of the law is justice.
In the administration of justice, the court is the threshold of justice, and justice alone. This is why the common man has always deemed it fit and appropriate heading to the court of law to seek for justice where there is any wrong done him. To both the common and uncommon man, the court is like a holy sanctuary. To this end, Dr. Haburk Manson, once said: “Magistrates and Judges are twin younger brothers to Jesus Christ fathered by the Almighty God”.
In other words, Magistrates and Judges shou sanctuary ld live above board in the discharge of their judicial duties. They are expected to live like the Caesar’s wife, above board. The Magistrates and the Judges are persons whose action or inaction vis-a-vis their judicial functions affects a person, either good or bad. It behoves on them to do justice to all manner of persons without fear or favour. It is the Judiciary that spotlights and corrects the errors of the other two arms of government to wit, the Executive and the Legislature. It is the Judiciary that curbs the excesses of other two arms of government. The Judiciary as the watchdog of the society, should not allow the common man’s hope to be lost.
Whenever the Judiciary is mentioned, what quickly comes to one’s mind is the Court. The Judiciary is the Bench. The Bench comprises the Magistrates and the Judges, whilst the Bar, is of the legal practitioners. The Bench is also known as the Temple of Justice. It is the umpire of the society. The legal practitioners are not members of the Bench, but the Bench is their constituency as they are ministers in the Temple of Justice. The Bar and the Bench constitute the Legal Profession. It is only the court that is empowered to pronounce an accused person or persons death under the law and this happens when the accused person is found guilty after a full trial. Extra Judicial killings have no place under the Nigerian law. The Judiciary does not make law. It only interprets the law made by the Legislature. However, it is worthy of note that the Judiciary also makes law by way of “Judicial Precedent”.
The symbol of justice is the Lady Justice. This is a Lady whose eyes are blindfolded, signifying that the law is blind, and is no respecter of persons. The Lady holds a Scale of Justice by her left hand, and a Sword of Justice by the right hand. She strikes with the Sword of Justice upon the side the Scale of Justice tilts. Where a Magistrate or a Judge appreciates personalities and not the facts and the law, he has abdicated the responsibility of being a Magistrate or a Judge to decide a matter one way or the other, in tandem with the law.
Interestingly, from 1963 to date, Nigeria has been blessed with men and women of honour on the Bench. Their landmark-judgments are replete with uncommon legal wisdom and erudition. These are evident in the Law Reports.
However, just like in Twelve Apostles, Judas Iscariot will always emerge. From the records, only a few of the Magistrates and the Judges have been shown the way out of the Bench as a result of judicial misconduct. Such Magistrates and Judges do not belong to the Bench!
In enjoining Judges, the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay, SAN, had this to say: “Judges who are corrupt have destroyed the judiciary and nothing is too much for their punishment”. The former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Mahmud Mohammed in swearing in of two Justices of the Supreme Court on the 7th day of November, 2016, also enjoined the two justices thus: “You must remain blind to personality and status, and remain the hope of all men whether common or uncommon”. A retired Supreme Court Justice, Hon. Justice Samson Uwaifo, also stated thus: “A corrupt Judge is more harmful to the society than a man who runs amok with dagger in a crowded street”.
Where a common man cannot get justice in the court, the Judiciary would be a disaster, and the society will definitely suffer it. There is hierarchy of court in Nigeria. The trial court is the court of first instance. Where a litigant is dissatisfied with the judgment of the trial court, he has option to appeal the judgment.
At the apex of the Judiciary is the Supreme Court of Nigeria. It is the highest court for Nigeria. It is the court that has the final say on all matters. It is a court of finality. An appeal against its judgment is to God. The Supreme Court of Nigeria was established in 1963, and the Court has immensely contributed to the growth and development of law and justice. The first indigenous Chief Justice of Nigeria was Sir Adetokunbo Ademola, GCON, and the current Chief Justice of Nigeria is Hon. Justice Walter Onnoghen, CON.
The Judiciary should not be censured for the injustice in the society. Some people do not approach the court whenever injustice is met out to them by any individual or government. Such people are advised not to resort to self-help. The law frowns at self-help. It is advised that such people are at liberty to approach the court for legal redress, when alternative dispute resolutions might have been explored and exhausted, and it proved abortive.
There is no country in the world that will exist without the Judiciary. The absence of the Judiciary in a given country, will bring about manifest injustice, anarchy, chaos, despondency, lawlessness, and what not.
The Judiciary is underfunded. The government should properly fund the Judiciary. It should be equipped with the latest recording machines to assist the Magistrates and the Judges in the smooth running of their judicial duties. There should be adequate security in safeguarding the Judiciary. The government should provide adequate infrastructural development for the Judiciary.
The Nigerian Judiciary has ensured the transition of successive democratic settings in recent times. The importance of Judiciary cannot be overemphasized. There should be recruitment of more Magistrates and Judges for smooth dispensation of justice in Imo State, in particular, and Nigeria, in general.
There are also the Judiciary workers in the Judiciary. They assist the Magistrates and the Judges purely on administrative and clerical issues. These are the registrars, clerks, bailiffs, messengers and cleaners. They are also advised to be more dedicated to their duties, and should shun corruption.
The Independence of Judiciary is a sine qua non for any democratic country, in that, the Judiciary detaches itself from the whims and caprices of the Executive, and the Legislature. It instills public confidence in the administration of justice.
On the whole, I vehemently believe, and seriously, too, that the Judiciary is the last hope of the common man!
IKEDI AGUNKWU Esq is an Owerri-based Lawyer