Following the recent reshuffling and transfer of Federal High Court judges in different judicial divisions in Nigeria, A2Justice has made recourse to the National Judicial Council complaining about the problems associated with the arbitrary and routine transfers of Judges of the Federal High Court from one judicial division to the other and how these problems affect the speedy dispensation of justice in Nigeria.
In a letter addressed to the Chairman of the National Judicial Council, A2Justice lamented that the transfers of judges of the Federal High Court who have commenced but not completed trials in their courts, from one State/division to another can have drastic and traumatizing effects on litigants and other court users and escalate the costs of litigation and of obtaining justice given the rule that such cases would need to be begun afresh before a new Judge. Such transfers of Judges oftentimes occur after the case has already spent several years on the docket of the court of the transferred Judge.
According to A2Justice, to re-start cases that have already spent several years on a cause-list afresh is painful, agonizing and very hard on litigants who at this time have themselves probably already laboured under considerable strain exertion, and, for some exhaustion. This would entail recalling witnesses and re-tendering different varieties of evidence. Some of the cases affected by these transfers may also be fundamental rights cases, where issues of constitutional rights – including liberty or movement – may also be in question.
These administrative transfers, A2Justice asserted, force litigants to outspend themselves in order to resolve disputes or find remedies, in view of several other additional expenses involved in re-litigating a matter. “Transfers take their toll on, and burden witnesses too, some of whom may be unable, on health or other grounds, to return to court to give evidence again. When witnesses are unable to re-appear in court to give evidence and a case is thereby prejudiced, this perpetuates replicates and amplifies very negative public impressions about our court system and its ability to uphold the rule of law and dispense justice freely and efficiently. No person affected by these kinds of transfers would have a positive impression of the court or how the courts take their responsibility to dispense justice” A2Justice said.
A2Justice asked the National Judicial Council to inquire into these concerns and adopt and issue policies that will effectively end these administrative transfers of Judges in ways of course that do not interfere with the powers given to Chief Judges of the respective States and federal jurisdictions. The Constitution provides the Council the powers to do this under para 21(i) of Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution, which provides that the National Judicial Council shall have powers to “(i) deal with all other matters relating to broad issues of policy and administration”. A2Justice urged the National Judicial Council to:
1. Require the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court to make immediate provisions for Judges of the Federal High Court transferred out of their divisions or stations, beginning from the last quarter of 2012 to return to their courts to complete all part-heard cases
2. Adopt and issue a clear, enforceable policy that prevents any Judge from being transferred or relocated from his or her court or division without an impact assessment of the effect of such transfers on part-heard cases.
3. Where Judges have begun to hear cases, clearly insist that they will not be transferred out of their courts until they have completed the hearing and determination of all pending or part-heard cases, in order to safeguard the interests and rights of court users.