Ways To Make The Transfer Of Judges Meaningful And Purposeful In Nigeria

By  Chief (Barr.)  Malcolm Emokiniovo Omirhobo .

LAGOS JUNE 20TH (NEWSRANGERS)-I refer to  the   circulars dated the 16th day of March 2021 and the 5th day of May 2021  issued by the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court of Nigeria on the transfer of  Federal High Court  judges and state  categorically that the transfer   like other mass transfers in the past will  do more harm than good  to the Nigerian  legal  system.

Without prejudice to the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria  strike ,  by the said circular   of 16th March , 2021,   Judges newly posted to Judicial divisions must assume duty on such places on the 12th day of April , 2021 ,   which is  barely a month notice  and a very short time for any meaningful and purposeful transfer . The said circular enjoined the affected judges to ensure that  inventories of the court:’s  properties in their custody are taken and properties handed over to the chief registrar of the court . By the said circular  the affected  judges  must   in line with the policy of the Federal High Court since 2015 carry along with them  to their new post   the household equipment and electrical appliances already provided for them but  curiously enough the circular did  not care about asking judges to clear their tables because that is not part of the equation .  

The military style transfer did not give the  judges on transfer  adequate time to round up  part heard cases in their courts  and Ipso facto threw  spanner  in the works of such  cases throughout Nigeria.  Aside part heard cases , fresh and pending cases are  not spared  as the affected judges mechanically  froze action on them by adjourning  them  . Criminal cases particularly matters concerning bail of accused persons  and the enforcement of Fundamental right cases  are  made to suffer  . Urgent cases which requires the preservation of the Res are  adversely affected as the applicants are  exposed to unimaginable  risk ,  danger  and injustice whereas it is not all  completed act that the court can undo  and also it is trite  that compensation cannot make up for some types of damages or injury  suffered by a litigant . Public interest cases are  being    rendered academic exercises  or overtaken by events  because of the delay that  the transfer has occasioned . 

The newly  posted judges will have to start learning and studying the facts and  the proceedings of the cases   as well as the demeanour of parties. The effect of the transfer on part heard cases ,is that  they will either start de novo  or  the affected parties will have to apply for  fiat from the Chief judge to permit the presiding judges   on transfer to travel from their  new post to their old post to  adjudicate  on  such cases or the Chief Judge will have to vest such judges  with fiat to conclude such cases . 

‌Let me  quickly chip in here that judges leaving their new post to  their old post to preside over part heard matters  by  fiat   has a lot of negative impact on the Nigerian  judiciary  and Public.  I stand to be contradicted  . The adverse  side effects of abrupt transfer of judges  continues  for over  three years after the transfer to  choke and frustrate the entire judicial system.  

From my experience as a legal practitioner , cases  in the affected judge’s new post will have to suffer undue adjournments as such  judges will  at least once or twice a month  leave  their new post for their old post and this  is a big distraction  which  no doubt affect their performance  as it takes these itinerant judges time to adjust physically and mentally moving  from one jurisdiction to the other.   I know of some judges who after being posted still sits in three judicial divisions  all in the name of sitting outside jurisdiction by fiat . There was one  occasion where my matter could not go on because   the presiding judge  had gone to sit outside jurisdiction and on his way back missed his flight . There are some judges who don’t sit on certain days because they have designated those days  for them to sit in other jurisdictions . The exercise of sitting outside jurisdiction  is expensive as the judge would have to incur  expenses like air tickets , feeding  , accomodation , inconvenience allowance and miscellaneous  for themselves and supporting staffs all on  the tax papers money . Very importantly travelling outside jurisdiction to sit also put the lives of our  Lordships who are always on transit at risk .

Our judges need adequate time  to conclude all the pending trials being  handled by them.before assuming office at their new post . This is very import to avoid them junketing from their old post to their new post risking their lives and waisting the tax payers’ money  . This  custom of judges sitting outside jurisdiction  is very bad , sad and pathetic . Imagine  lawyers and litigants  dutifully present  in court only to be informed that their matter will not be going on because the presiding judge officially  travelled outside  jurisdiction to hear a matter that he did not conclude at his old post.

Going forward ,  to prevent  transfers from  being unproductive   both at  the  Federal and State High Courts, the Court  must stop transferring  judges abruptly .  Except for emergency situation   arising from death, resignation , termination of appointment  and incapacitation of a judge that necessitates replacement , the  transfer of judges must be systematically planned and executed . Judges sitting outside their jurisdiction  by fiat must be discouraged by our  Courts except it is unavoidable like in the above situations.  

If as a matter of course the Federal High Court must transfer her judges  en masse like in the extant case  ,  it must be properly planned ,  organised and executed  so as not to cause hardship or disrupt  the entire judicial system.  The  judges pencilled down for transfer must be given  ample  time , at least  four to six months notice to enable them round up all their part heard matters  . Within this time the admin judge must stop assigning new cases to them  to help them concentrate on clearing their tables while  those judges that are not going on transfer are to be loaded  with new cases and be relieved when the transfer becomes effective by which time the admin judge will start assigning new cases to the newly posted judges  . The implication of this is that there will be no case file  left  behind at the court registry for   reassignment  to other judges for adjudication which normally takes months . There will be nothing like  cases starting de novo or judges sitting outside jurisdiction .  Upon assuming office at their new post the  judges  will have fresh cases to deal with from the scratch and will not inherit any old file or part heard matter and will hit the ground running instead of waisting judicial  time studying  the facts of the cases  , the  proceedings and   demeanour of the parties as well as puting  holes  in the publics’ pocket.

As our newly posted  Honourable Judges  struggle to  settle down at their  new post ,    I wish  the Bench , the Bar and the Public  well and I pray that our  courts stop the transfer of judges for the fun of it .

Chief Malcolm Omirhobo a Legal luminary and Human Right Activist writes from  Lagos

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Posted by on Jun 20 2021. Filed under Features, National. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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