Lawyers differ on higher pay for judicial officers

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Some Abuja-based lawyers on Wednesday expressed divergent views on the  Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Tanko Muhammad ‘s proposal to review salaries of Judicial Officers, every four years.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that by the dictate of Section 84 (1), the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) reviewed judges’ salary by the enactment of, ’’Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, etc.) (Amendment) Act, 2008’’ which came into force on Feb. 1, 2007.

NAN reports that since this has not been reviewed with effect from 2008, judges’ salaries have remained the same for about 13 years.

Muhammad on June 3, asked the National Assembly to alter the 1999 constitution to mandate the National Judicial Council (NJC) to fix and review judges salaries every four years.

The CJN made this submission in the paper he presented as submissions by the judiciary on the occasion of the national public hearing by the Senate Committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution held at the Africa Hall of the International Conference Centre in Abuja.

A legal practitioner, Dare Owolabi said:”the CJN’s application for amendment of the constitution in respect of the adjustment of judges’ salaries every four years is long overdue.
” It is another wing of the clamour for judicial independence, political office holders use money not power to remove the blindfold of lady justice and this is made possible by the poor conditions of service of the judges.
“I support anything that will usher in sanity in our judiciary and financial independence plays a major role, ” Owolabi said.
He however said other proposed amendments regarding reduction of the Supreme Court bench to 16 from 21 and seeking the leave of the Court for appeals from the Court of Appeal are diversionary and inhibit smooth administration of justice.
 ” The Supreme Court is attending to 2015 appeals in 2021, there are over 6,000 appeals in the Lagos division of the Court of Appeal alone and only 350 are assigned to panels, we were already taking 2023 dates for Court of Appeal matters in Abuja and so on.
” Reducing the bench or asking for leave before appeal at the Supreme Court is putting the cart before the horse. The bench should be widened, all bureaucratic procedures should be jettisoned and it should be introduced at all levels for speedy administration of justice,” he said.

Also, Mr Sunday Amos, another lawyer,  said the CJN;s prayers were great.

” I personally buy into everything His Lordship put on the table here except the reduction of the number of Justices of the Supreme Court from 21 to 16.

“As a matter of fact, l think the number should be increased taking into account the fact that a full panel of the Apex Court consists of seven Lord Justices.

” On a general note, the amendments proffered by His Lordship will ensure that the Judiciary is truly independent in all respects. It’s indeed a commendable effort” Amos said.

Also, Okey Nnaji, another Lawyer said the proposal was what is obtainable in a normal democratic setting.

” Ideally, the Judiciary is an independent arm and should be able to carry out it’s own function and administration without interference of the executive, yet, subject to the principle of checks and balances.

” The proposal is to empower the Judiciary to function well to curb unfortunate incidents of allegation of bribery and also to be at par with their counterparts in other crimes.

” Moreso, increase in the number of Judges at the Appeal level is not negotiable because the dockets of the Court of Appeal is well overloaded that appeals sometimes might not be dispensed with in good time , average of three to seven years to finish an appeal from a trial court)” he said.

He said the Apex court is laden with a lot of frivolous appeals which ordinarily should not be there.

Nnaji said that because the law states that matters can be appealed as of right and that places a lot of burden on the Supreme Court to listen to these appeals despite it’s obvious frivolities.

“If approved, matters will need permission before it’ll be taken at that level at least to find out if it is meritorious.

“The recent saga involving the former CJN and the Code of conduct leaves a sour taste and display of manipulation where there’s lacuna in the laws.

“This will be cured if the jurisdiction of that court is properly placed, especially with the nomination of its head” he said.

But Mr Awaliene Shaka, said that the problem of the judiciary was not the increase of salaries of  judges or the reduction of the numbers of it’s judges at the supreme court.

” In other words, the NJC should be strengthened in it’s selection of judges process than any other issue, a quality judge guarantees quality judicial system.

” A candidate for appointment to the bench or elevation to the court of appeal; Supreme court should in the course of his career as a legal practitioner exhibit the some aspects of judicial temperament/

”These are intelligence, ethics, courage and integrity, education and experience, suitability to work load, patience, open-mindedness, courtesy, punctuality, firmness, understanding, compassion, humility, health, character and common sense” he said.

Shaka said that these qualities should be demonstrated consistently and verified from written and oral submissions made by a candidate in the course of his practice.

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