CHIEF Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Walter Onnoghen has exonerated Judges of being the sole cause of delay in court cases, saying that the responsibility of investigation and prosecution rest squarely with independent bodies. The CJN who said that the responsibility of the judges was to decide on cases brought them also said that the establishment of special courts for speedy adjudication of special cases was the prerogative of the executive in conjunction with the legislature while the judiciary only provides the manpower to handle the special courts. Onnoghen who fielded questions from the State House correspondents after meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari under closed-doors at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, on Tuesday, said it was unfair to blame judges for not expeditiously trying cases when judges were always seated and ready to listen to cases brought before them.
He explained that he was at the State House to facilitate with the President who had returned from the Commonwealth of Heads of Government Meeting, CHOGM, in London and also inform him on developments in the judiciary arm of government. He said, “I am here to felicitate with Mr. President. As you are aware, he has just returned from the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting at the head of federal government delegation and there is also the need for regular interaction to keep him abreast of latest development in the Judiciary.”
On the claim that the Judiciary was not doing enough to ensure speedy trial of cases, the CJN said, “Now, l believe that you know, with your experience of many years of practice that there has never been situation in which any case was taken to court and decided upon and the Judge was not there to listen to the case. , or having finished hearing, he refused to deliver judgement. “So, when cases are not tried expeditiously and the Judge is there, ready to listen to the case, you come and for one reason or the other, you take a date to adjourn the case, and the courts grants the adjournment which is normal during proceedings, you cannot turn round and blame the Judge for that. “These are the basic things that everybody must know. We must all work together, cooperate for the system to move forward. But if you keep thinking that the Judiciary is the culprit in this delay process, you are not telling the whole story. “It is not the judiciary that would go and arrest someone before looking for evidence, it is not the judiciary that would go into investigations. No, we do not operate the Inquisitional mode of justice as it is practiced by the French.
Our own is that an independent body must investigate, prosecute while the judge decides.” He commended the judges for doing good jobs despite some pockets of blames, saying, “So far, so good. Under the circumstances, l must admit that so far, so good. “It is in order to enable you know the workings of the system that l set up the COMPRECO ( Commission for the Prevention of Corruption) committee. All along, everybody is passing buck, left, right and centre. The prosecutor is saying, no it is not our responsibility, we are not the cause of the delay, the investigator is saying l am not the cause, the Judge will say, l am not the cause. “So, the people must know who is actually causing the delay, that is why l set up that committee. And it is made up of both the defense counsel, the prosecutor and the Judiciary under the NJC.”
On the claims in some quarters that the judiciary was not on the same page with the executive in the ongoing fight against corruption, he said that the judiciary has good working relationship with other arms of government especially the executive in the fight against corruption. He said, “I have answered that before and l still say the same thing. We are on the same page with the Executive as well as the legislature. There are three arms of government and these three arms constitute the government. The government is not only the Executive neither is it the legislature but it is the embodiment of the three.” Also asked when special courts would be set up to try corruption cases, the CJN said, “It is the Executive that has the prerogative in conjunction with the Legislature to establish courts under our constitution. “It is not the duty of the judiciary nor that of the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
If a special court or any court for that matter the powers that decides to establish them, the Judiciary will run it by providing the manpower required to run it.” He said the judiciary was working hard to decongest the nation’s prisons in its prisons reforms even as he noted that the prisons were populated by awaiting trials inmates. He said, “You are seeing everything being done on the issue. Next week, we are continuing with our action. But there is something you should know about prison decongestion. Now there is the aspect about the constraints by the physical constraints in respect of the prison itself, how many people were to be contained in one prison, how many were there and how many are there now. “Secondly, you should also know that the actual prisoners are fewer compared with the total number you see there which is mainly awaiting trial and that is where the aspect where prison decongestion is working on and l can assure you that this is being handled.”