By kenneth Atavti
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, yesterday warned judges in the country to refrain from issuing what he described as “reckless” remand orders to the police.
Justice Onnoghen specifically charged judges not to issue remand orders in cases where police lack concrete evidence to sustain its criminal allegations against the defendant(s) or where the court does not have the requisite jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
The CJN gave the warning while declaring open 2018 All Nigerian Judges’ Conference of the Lower Courts at the National Judicial Institute (NJI), Abuja. The CJN charged judicial officers, especially magistrates to regularly embark on visits to police stations and other remand homes to curtail the issue of illegal detention by police while lamenting the deplorable conditions of prisons in the country.
“I must emphasize at this forum, the need for heads of courts, in synergy with the various attorneys-general of the states, to pay frequent visits to prison facilities within their jurisdictions in a bid to assess the situation on a first-hand basis.
“In addition, reckless remand orders must not be issued by your courts where it appears that the police lack evidence to prosecute a criminal matter or your courts do not possess the requisite jurisdiction to entertain such matter,” he said.
Speaking on the independence of the judiciary, Justice Onnoghen, who remarked that the judiciary enjoys financial autonomy only at the federal level, stressed that funding of the judiciary is crucial as it is the most important index for assessing its independence.
“It is clear that the litmus test to determine how free and democratic any nation is would be to take a cursory look at its judiciary to find out if the executive is prepared to obey the principle of separation of powers. “The judiciary is a vital partner in governance. The complete and real independence of the judiciary is thus a reflection of the nation and of freedom,” he said.
Justice Onnoghen, however, maintained that the independence of the judiciary can only be sustained and guaranteed when there is no interference by the other arms of government in the discharge of its constitutional duties. The Administrator of the NJI, Justice Rosalyne Bozimo, in her welcome address, described the conference as a stock-taking event for judges of the lower courts from all over the country to converge and reflect upon the activities of the judiciary and to cross-fertilize ideas on the way forward.
Bozimo said the theme of the conference is apt going by the important role which the lower courts play in the nation’s legal system. “The theme of this year’s conference: ‘Improving The Quality of Justice Administration in The Lower Courts’, is sacrosanct as the judiciary is and has always been the fulcrum of good governance in any country.
“As such, the judiciary has a major role to play in upholding constitutional democracy, to ensure that justice is not only done but is seen to be done, in order to accomplish the goal of enhancing our democracy,” she said.
Bozimo, however, observed that the judiciary can only grow with continued reforms aimed at upholding and protecting the rights of the citizens.