New Telegraph

Disquiet over 2021 court vacation

Why vacation should be suspended, by lawyers

AKEEM NAFIU writes that lawyers are pushing for the suspension of this year’s annual vacation for judicial officers to allow for the hearing of backlog of cases stalled due to the prolonged strike by Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN)

 

Some senior lawyers have thrown their weights behind call for the suspension of the 2021 annual vacation for judicial officers across the country in order to address the problem of cases pile-up due to a prolonged closure of courts by Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN).

 

 

The lawyers disclosed that the call for the suspension of 2021 court vacation billed to start next month by a former Chairman of the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, Chief Bolaji Ayorinde (SAN), should be heeded to avoid a collapse of the nation’s justice system.

 

They noted that the 64-day-old strike action by JUSUN over agitations for full fiscal autonomy for the judiciary had adversely affected the justice sector and as such any further disruption in courts’ activities will worsen the situation.

 

The strike action embarked upon by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) from April 6 to June 9, 2021, had paralyzed judicial activities in all courts across the country.

 

The strike is the longest industrial action in the history of the Nigerian judiciary. Explaining the rationale behind the strike, JUSUN’s Deputy National President, Emmanuel Abioye, said it is the Union’s position to see that the amount standing to the credit of the judiciary from the monthly federal allocation is deducted directly from the source by the Accountant General of the Federation and same remitted to the National Judicial Council (NJC) for onward transmission to heads of courts.

 

He added that JUSUN also expect each state government to start implementing its selfaccounting law to deal with the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) in line with Section 121(3) of the 1999 Constitution. However, following series of intervention by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad,

 

National Judicial Council (NJC) as well as the Federal Government, the national body of JUSUN announced the suspension of the strike in a communique issued at the end of its National Executive Council (NEC) meeting.

 

Ayorinde’s letter

 

In the meantime, a former Chairman of the Legal Aid Council of Nigeria, Chief Bolaji Ayorinde (SAN), has called on the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, to direct the suspension of this year’s annual judges’ vacation to avoid a further disruption of court activities.

 

The silk, in a letter titled; “RE: THE NEED TO SUSPEND 2021 ANNUAL COURT VACATION”, said the nation’s justice sector should be spared of any event that can lead to another round of courts closure.

 

While citing #ENDSARS protests, coronavirus pandemic as well as the recently suspended JUSUN’s strike as some of the events that have adversely affected the judiciary, Ayorinde emphasized the need for the suspension of the vacation in order to save the justice system from collapse and rekindle common man’s hope in the judiciary.

 

He said: “It is a well-known and acknowledged fact that our judges are hardworking and patriotic Nigerians and as such and in view of the highlighted circumstances that had paralyzed judicial activities across Nigeria, there is a glaring opportunity for the judiciary to make a bold statement to rekindle the hope of the common man, as well as, renew investors’ confidence in Nigeria as an investment destination.

 

“I therefore most humbly accordingly, urge Your Lordship and all other Heads of Courts in Nigeria to in the interest of persons who are languishing in detention and awaiting trial and those that their cases have suffered inordinate delay due to extraneous factors aforementioned, kindly direct a suspension of the 2021 Annual Judges Vacation in order to save our justice system.

 

“My lord, such a direction will no doubt portray the judiciary as a most responsive institution and third arm of government that is the last hope of the common man. Such a direction will also definitely and substantially clear most of the backlog of cases which have suffered delays in our courts thereby making our courts ‘fit for the purpose’ again”.

 

Copies of the letter were sent to all Heads of Courts, all Chief Judges of the various states and FCT, the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and the Secretary of the Body of Senior Advocates of Nigeria (BOSAN).

Lawyers back Ayorinde’s call

 

The call on the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad, to direct the suspension of this year’s annual judges’ vacation has received the backing of some senior lawyers.

 

The lawyers were unanimous in condemning the numerous disruptions in the activities of the judiciary since the emergence of COVID-19 pandemic, saying it is unhealthy and capable of eroding public confidence in the third arm of government. Speaking on the issue, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Dr. Biodun Layonu, disclosed that Ayorinde’s call is a welcome development as it would help in clearing backlog of cases stalled by JUSUN’s strike.

 

He said: “A very good suggestion to help clear the backlog of cases. I think the national body of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) should echo it and formally seek it from the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) and the various Heads of Courts”.

 

Speaking in the same vein, another member of the Inner Bar, Mr. Yemi Candide-Johnson, said suspending the vacation would be a worthwhile venture as long as justice delivery is a pillar of governance and social regulation.

 

“If justice delivery is a pillar of governance and social regulation, then the answer is obvious. The judges may want to defend the integrity of their mission by actually doing some work in 2021”, the silk said.

 

A former Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Monday Ubani, was also in support of the call for judicial officers to forgo their vacation saying it will afford them the opportunity to address the burden of backlog of cases. He said: “The judiciary should suspend its annual vacation for this year.

 

It is my opinion that now that the courts have resumed, if possible, judicial officers should forgo their annual vacation for this year. They have been on vacation all this while as far as I am concerned.

 

“I believe this is necessary in order for them to attend to all the cases which have been piling up. The administration of justice in Nigeria is very slow. I have up to five cases of people who have been languishing in Ikoyi and Kirikiri prisons. There are numerous cases like these all over the country”.

 

Dr. Fassy Yusuf also described Ayorinde’s call as a patriotic one that must be heeded by judicial officers in order to sustain public confidence in the judiciary.

 

“I endorsed the learned silk patriotic call for Judges and Justices in the nation’s judiciary to suspend their annual vacation to enable them attend to cases and matters that were not attended to during the over two months strike by the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN). It is a patriotic call and should be heeded by our Judges and Justices.

 

“They were not on duty for over two months, even though not due to any fault of theirs. But, the fact remains that they have done anything for about two months and yet they got paid. It is therefore reasonable that they should give something back to the country. Anything outside that will be unpatriotic and in any case, you cannot eat your cake and have it.

 

“For over two months they did not work and now they want to go on another two months vacation again, this means they will be on vacation for about four to five months. Don’t forget that they were on vacation during Christmas and New Year period as well as during the Easter.

 

“So, I want to join Chief Bolaji Ayorinde (SAN) in saying that our Judges and Justices should in the interest of the country forgo their vacation in 2021 so that they can attend to pending matters”, Yusuf said.

 

A rights activist, Mr. Kabir Akingbolu, said no further disruption should be allowed in the activities of the judiciary to avoid crisis in the justice sector. Akingbolu said:

 

“The call for judges to suspend or do away with this year’s annual vacation is well made and therefore deserves to be honoured or respected. This is because for the greatest part of last year, there was no serious legal business done, ditto for this year.

 

“Now, if the judges are to proceed on annual vacation, then, it means there won’t be serious legal business till October, and funny enough, by that time, the Christmas and New year vacation will be knocking at the door already and contentious cases will be given next year’s date in most cases.

 

“This, for all intent and purposes, cannot augur well for our judicial system or justice sector as a whole.

 

Although, annual vacation is statutory like most of the judges do argue, it will be better if this very great sacrifice can be made by our judges to save the nation’s judiciary from pernicious destruction.

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