BY KHALID IDRIS DOYA, Bauchi
Judicial independence is an intrinsic element of constitutional democracy and the rule of law, hence constitutionalism and separation of powers can only strive under the atmosphere of a constitutionally guaranteed judicial independence.
To this end, the Bauchi state branch of the Magistrates Association of Nigeria commended Governor Bala Mohammed for his recent assent to the State Judicial Financial Autonomy Bill earlier passed by the Bauchi House of Assembly.
The state chairman of Magistrates Association of Nigeria (MAN), Abdulmumini Adamu Esq “Governor Bala Mohammed has assented to the financial autonomy bill to guarantee the independence of the judiciary in the state. This singular gesture of His Excellency is worthy of commendation.”
“This law will, among other things, ensure that allocation meant to each arm of the State government on the Consolidated Statutory Revenue Fund is promptly paid into the designated account of each arm based on the appropriation of the State for each year. This is to accentuate and make sure that the judiciary is completely independent and autonomous”.
At the New Year Event with the Themed “Enhancing Justice Delivery and Administration in Bauchi State” held yesterday at Command House Bauchi, the association chairman however noted with concern that since the law came into effect in August last year, the judiciary is yet to feel its impact
Barrister Adamu, at the Magistrates Association of Nigeria Bauchi Branch New Year Event, 2023, noted that the bill attested to the fact that financial autonomy is vital to the judiciary, also while quoting from the State Branch of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) which described the signing of bill into law as a milestone for the judiciary.
“More worrisome is the pathetic condition of service under which the magistrates operate, ranging from decayed and dilapidated structures to poor welfare packages. The situation is better imagined than experienced. Magistrates are compelled to board commercial vehicles along with litigants and indeed other commuters, exposing us to risk while subjecting the magistracy to ridicule”.
“We are referred to as resident Magistrates but without official residence or quarters in our respective duty posts. In the area of training and retraining, magistrates in this jurisdiction are lagging behind if comparison is to be made with other jurisdictions due lack of sponsorship.”
According to the Bauchi Branch of Magistrates Association of Nigeria Chairman, Barrister Abdulmumini Adamu, the dynamic nature of law demands for mandatory continuing legal education and others like workshops, seminars and conferences where topical legal issues discussed, saying the last time Magistrates were sponsored by the State government to attend the Nigerian Bar Association Conference and National Judicial Institute was 2018, except by zoom or online.
Adamu explained that their take home pay will not accommodate self-sponsorship thereby subjecting them to a pandemic of professional stagnation, stressing that cumulatively these factors militate against the effective functioning of the judiciary and by extension hampers justice delivery and administration, adding “This is perilous. It renders the judicial susceptible to corruption and the monetization of access to justice making Justice for the highest bidder, God forbid”
The chairman appealed to his learned colleagues in private practice to desist from writing unwarranted petitions against the magistrates and judges as well as on matters that right of appeal or certiorari exist and can be utilized to checkmate the excesses of the trial court if any.
He observed that the path taken by some lawyers in their dealing with magistrates is not only reprehensible but also inimical to justice delivery and administration with the situation already delicate and posed a grave threat to magistrates in the state, and called on the leadership of the NBA and senior lawyers in the state to intervene and salvage the situation as vanguard of the judiciary.
While reminding that the court is their ancestral home for both the bench and bar, and destroying it would mean losing their profession, the chairman urged participants to listen attentively to the papers that will be presented at this event, expressing optimistism that the resource persons have the professional prowess, vast legal experience and exposure of international repute.
In his paper presentation on Admissibility of Electronically Generated Evidence under the Evidence Act, 2011, Honestly. Justice A. R. Muhammad stated that Nigerian courts contended strenuously with how to treat electronically generated documents as this was essentially because of the old evidence Act that was now repealed.
He said judicial opinions over issues relating to admissibility of electronically generated evidence were sharply divided from from the lowest court to the highest court in the land.
In her remarks the chairman of the occasion, the chief judge Bauchi state and Chairman Judicial Service Commission Honourable Justice Rabi Talatu Umar, represented by Justice Mu’azu A. Abubakar , commended the leadership of Magistrates’ Association of Nigeria in the state for their hardworking, commitment and dedication.
Justice Rabi Talatu Umar, promised to deal with any judge found wanting in disrupting the sanity of the judicial system in the state.