Access to Justice Welcomes NJC Reforms to Judicial Appointment Procedures

Access to Justice (A2Justice) welcomes reforms to procedures and guidelines for appointing superior court Judges in Nigeria made by the National Judicial Council (NJC) recently. The reforms seek to plug serious lapses in the former judicial appointments/elevation guidelines that made those guidelines too feeble and ineffective in achieving its aims.

The former guidelines did not, and could not safeguard judicial appointments from being politicised, or from being vulnerable to high-profile lobbying, or even from “institutional nepotism”. Under those rules, judicial appointments were undertaken through processes that were undemocratic, and which lacked openness or transparency. This effectively led to the exclusion of otherwise eligible people from consideration for judicial office.

The former guidelines could not ensure that those appointed to judicial office represented the strongest stock of talent that the legal profession could offer. The new changes also respond to longstanding advocacy by individuals and civic organizations for reform of rules and procedures relating to the appointment of Judges.

In July 2014, an international judicial reforms conference organized by the Nigerian Bar Association, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Access to Justice in collaboration with the NJC, (and backed by the EU and the Open Society Initiative for W/Africa) had pressed the urgency of reforming the judicial appointments system in Nigeria, concluding with a communiqué that canvassed the reviewing “the guidelines for the recruitment of judges to encourage a more transparent, competitive and merit-based system that will eliminate non-transparency in the appointment process”.

The new Guidelines respond constructively to the representations made to the NJC in this regard Judicial appointments are a gateway to the exercise of enormous judicial powers and authority. Where procedures of appointments are weak, flawed or vulnerable, the outcomes of the process will likely reproduce those frailties and flaws. Some of those who get in through flawed procedures may be unable to exercise judicial powers in ways that give people confidence in the administration of justice and may end up sometimes bringing the judiciary itself to disrepute.