NJC's 10-man Ethics Committee to Review Code of Conduct for Judges
National Judicial Council (NJC) Chairman and Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, on Monday, inaugurated a ten-man Judicial Ethics Committee with a mandate to review the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers in the country.
A former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Idris Legbo Kutigi, is the head of the committee while another retired justice of the Supreme Court and erstwhile Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, ICPC, Justice Emmanuel Ayoola, (rtd) is one of the members.
Other members of the committee include former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Umaru Abdullahi, President of the National Industrial Court, Justice Babatunde Adejumo, Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, Justice Ishaq Bello, President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud, SAN, two retired Justices of the Supreme Court, as well as a former President of the NBA, Chief Okey Wali, SAN.
While inaugurating the committee, Justie Mohammed, urged the members, "to do all such things necessary to ensure a continuous high standard of judicial accountability and probity."
The CJN said that corruption was a major problem in the nation's justice sector.
He said measures were being intensified to curb the menace, which informed the unveiling of a National Judicial Policy (NJP) in Abuja yesterday by the NJC.
He said: "It would be stating the obvious to opine that the greatest single menace that challenges the justice system in Nigeria today is corruption.
"This endemic vice is not peculiar to any region and ethnic group, cutting across faiths, religious denominations, levels of education and economic status.
"Corruption has serious implications for both the rule of law and access to justice, and must be fought both institutionally and individually.
"This is why the National Judicial Policy contains clear provisions restating the Judiciary’s commitment to transparency and accountability.
"This is clearly spelt out in Paragraph 5.1 of the National Judicial Policy 2016, thus- 'the National Judicial Policy recognizes that the greatest and most damaging challenge to administration of justice is corruption and that tackling this challenge must go beyond mere exhortation and sentiments.'
"The policy gives the legal backing for several multifaceted strategies and guidelines to be developed while the Judiciary continues to walk the talk in ridding corrupt Judicial Officers from its ranks, strictly in accordance with due process and the rule of law."
Justice Mohammed, who spoke at the launch of the NJP, noted that the absence of such policy in the past has occasioned an uneven growth of the Judiciary.
"Certainly, the absence of a blueprint has resulted in a demand for the transformation of the Nigerian Judiciary into a modern judicial system.
"For a number of years, each Jurisdiction has had to muddle along in developing core values and objectives and this has led to a mixed bag of standards and policies.
"This has also been compounded by the challenging deprivations and paucity of resources, without which critical development was limited.
"The National Judicial Policy is a charter of commitment to the values that elevate not only our judicial institutions, but also those who are employed by or involved in it," he further said.
The committee was also mandated to conduct periodic surveys on behalf of the NJC to measure public perception of level of compliance with ethical standards by the judiciary as well as "monitor and report on laxity by judicial officers in observance of ethical standards in the performance of judicial duties".
Former ICPC Chairman, Justice Ayoola who gave synopsis of the new policy, said it is a "codification of best ways to ensure an integrity driven judiciary whose hallmark is reliable and effective Justice system."
Similarly, former CJN, Justice Dahiru Musdapher who was Chairman of the event, stated that the Nigerian judiciary hitherto lacked a clear and over-reaching policy structure that defined its core ethics.
He described the new judicial policy as "a laudable and exemplary document that will set a better focus for effective judicial system in the country".
Legal luminaries at the unveiling ceremony included former CJN, Justice Mohammed Uwais, CJN-designate, Justice Walter Onnoghen, President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, Administrator of the NJI, Justice R.I.P. Bozimo, as well as Chairman and Members of the Senate/House Committees on Judiciary.
Among issues covered by the new judicial blueprint are policies relating to appointment of judicial officers, Judicial Discipline Policy, Judicial Code of Conduct, Judicial Education and Training, Judicial Performance Policy, Access to Justice Policy, Case flow Management Policy, Judicial Administration and Court Management Policy.
Others are Transparency and Anti-Corruption Policy, Judicial Independence Policy, as well as issues relating to the office of the CJN.
Under the Judicial Code of Conduct Policy, Judges and Court employees were barred from accepting gifts from other arms of government.
According to the document, "Judges must be accountable for public funds and property in their care and should be prudent in the management and use of resources".
Likewise, under Judicial Discipline Policy, allegation of misconduct against judicial officers or employees of the Judiciary shall not be leaked or published in the media.
It gave institutions of the judiciary concerned with investigation or implementation of decisions taken on complaints against Judicial Officers to cease further action where such complaints are leaked or discussed in the media.
The Judicial Appointment Policy stressed that the process must be transparent, merit-based and skill-based.
"A transparent and carefully designed appointment process is indispensable to an efficient and independent judiciary, able to command public confidence in the administration of justice and capable of promoting and protecting the rule of law and human rights.
"Every aspect of judicial appointment process should, therefore, be such as would command public respect and confidence that the best persons in terms of skill, learning, integrity and courage are appointed as judicial officers", the document stated.
Meanwhile, Lagos lawyer, Mr Femi Falana, SAN has said that NJC ought to commence an investigation into the allegation of judicial corruption leveled against the embattled arrested judges who are still in service without any further delay.
According to him, having regard to the embarrassing disclosures in the letters addressed to the Chief Justice by the judges the NJC should follow the advice of the Nigerian Bar Association by placing them on suspension pending the conclusion of full scale investigation in line with section 2.2.3 of the National Judicial Policy of the National Judicial Council which stipulates that the Council shall have the "powers of interim suspension".
He said: "However, both the NJC and the NBA should demand a public apology for Justice Nnamdi Dimgba as the SSS has not been able to link him with any corrupt practice or misconduct whatsoever."
He said it was wrong for the NJC to refuse to order the affected judges to step down, without allowing the judges to react to the advice of the NBA.
He argued that given the gravity of the allegation of judicial corruption and the far reaching implication for the image of the nation's judiciary, the NJC should have instituted inquiry into the matter, notwithstanding the fact that DSS had not submitted any report to it.
"Thus, the NJC has allowed the allegation of judicial corruption to continue to hang menacingly on the heads of the judges like a sword of Damocles.
"If the NJC had treated this national crisis with the urgency required it should have investigated the matter based on the avalanche of materials placed before it."
He said the NJC had handled a similar complaint of judicial corruption about a decade ago.
According to him, in 2006 when it was alleged that the members of the Akwa Ibom governorship election petition tribunal had received bribes to pervert Justice.
He said: "Without prejudice to the innocence of the judges, the NJC suspended them and requested the Director-General of the SSS to conduct a discreet investigation into the allegation. Upon the receipt of the report of the investigation it was found that each of the members of the tribunal had received a bribe of N10 million while a judge of the federal high court had acted as a conduit pipe in the scandal.
"At that stage the judges were confronted with the allegations. As their defence was found unsatisfactory the NJC recommended their removal from the bench. Furthermore, the NJC referred the matter to the Independent and Corrupt Practices and Other Offences Commission. One of the indicted judges collapsed and died when the ICPC operatives wanted to arrest him in his house in Makurdi, Benue State," he added.