‘Underfunding judiciary is grave injustice’
Sebastine Hon, SAN, is a constitutional lawyer and a seasoned author. In this interview, he speaks on young lawyers, welfare of judges, the National Judicial Council (NJC) and the moves by the EFCC to regulate lawyers and other sundry issues. Excerpts:
Young lawyers and indeed all lawyers are made to pay more for conferences and annual practicing fees, what is your advice for the young lawyers in view of their minimal take home package?
My heart goes for the young lawyers, especially those who are not doing well. We have two categories of young lawyers - some are doing well due to their background or to other factors whereas some are not doing well. For those that are doing well, they can afford to do even things the SAN cannot do.
I was once a young lawyer; I also faced challenges. The issue of increase in practicing fees and conference fees is one headache the NBA is grappling with. Young lawyers should realize that Nigeria of today is not the same as 10 years ago. We are moving from neo-socialism to neo-capitalism. You need to be tough to be able to get going. If they don’t become tough then the growing capitalism will swallow them. Due to socio-economic condition, things are not the way they should be, so I will rather advocate that they work hard because NBA is supposed to be a cohesive professional association that speaks with one voice and there is no room for infighting and continuous agitation over rights.
The EFCC, against the law of confidentiality, has turned to lawyer to make disclosure of certain lawyer/client information. What is your stand?
The EFCC is not acting in vacuum, they are acting as authorized by the Money Laundering Act. That lawyer/client privilege which you talk about is established under Section 192 – 194 of the Evidence Act. Evidence Act and Money Laundering Act are both Acts of the National Assembly and one is not superior to another so the EFCC is not acting pursuant to an unknown act. It is acting pursuant to well established powers.
I understand the position taken by the NBA, I cannot question it. At the same time, I want us to realize that corruption has so much permeated and destroyed this country that certain things that need some normal way of tackling now require some extraordinary means. For instance, everybody has agreed that corruption has permeated every sector; we have lawyers accused of money laundering who are standing trial. Indeed a SAN is standing trial for money laundering now; some are facing the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee (LPDC) for money laundering and related offences, so for some of us that work hard, it is a welcome development.
I don’t want to disagree with the NEC of NBA which is set to challenge the actions of the EFCC in court but at the same time, I want a more cautionary approach, may be an engagement with the EFCC or the National Assembly (NASS), because so far, the EFCC is acting pursuant to an established law. My firm has already registered with the EFCC under the scheme and it was registered with the EFCC before the NBA NEC came out with its position.
What is your take on the dwindling budgetary allocation to the judiciary?
It is a most unfortunate thing yet it is happening before our eyes. I call upon the leadership of the NBA to take up this issue because our judges are suffering and people still turn around and accuse them of corruption. If you compare their emoluments with judges in other countries within our neighbourhood, they are doing far better than us in terms of welfare.
Who does the cutting of budgetary proposals sent to the NASS? Is it the presidency? Whosoever is doing that is doing grave injustice to the workings and efficiency of the judiciary and the administration of justice. Without an efficient and effective judiciary, our democracy is gone. All the other arms of government do things that are subjected to the judgmental opinion of the judiciary. And under Section 6 A and B of the 1999 Constitution, it is the judiciary that the common man approaches when there is infringement on his right.
What happens now in some cases is that budgetary allocations to the judiciary are even not released what is the way out?
The 1999 Constitution is a federal and presidential constitution but are we practicing presidentialism or federalism? The answer is no. In presidential constitutions, there is express demarcation of powers between the executive, the judiciary and legislature. It is settled law that one arm is not supposed to infringe on the powers of the other, except as authorized by the constitution itself. Now we are practicing a democracy where the executive is gargantuan, over bearing and too strong, more so that other arms, especially the judiciary, are the weeping arms and that is not supposed to be.
The constitution established the National Judicial Council, NJC, and the council performs administrative and quasi judicial functions and under the constitution all money standing to the credit of the judiciary are supposed to be credited to the account of the NJC, so if that is not done, NJC can go to court for mandamus. So the NJC has some share of the blame.
In both Lagos and Rivers states, they have enacted law that all money meant for the judiciary be given to the Head of Court to avoid delays in releasing the money and I will advocate that other states should also make such laws.
If you look at Section 6(5) (a) –(k) of the 1999 Constitution which establishes courts including state courts, the implication is that these courts are federal courts but established to operate at state level but there has been continuous abuse resulting to great infringement of law at the state level.
Instead of NJC collecting money for the state judiciary, Court of Appeal, Grand Khadis and collating all and submitting as capital budget expenditure for the judiciary, they only collate data for salaries of judges of these various courts. So there is a misconception that these courts are state courts. This means that they are now at the mercy of the state governors. Section 84 and paragraph 21(e) of the third schedule states that the NJC is supposed to take steps to secure and enforce the capital expenditure of the state courts.
This man is confused and an architect of confusion!!!!!
U can say this since yar'adua is no more alive to depend him self. But every goo...
dsengaged for nine months with out benafit is injustice