The Federal Ministry of Justice, in collaboration with stakeholders in the justice delivery sector, adopted a National Policy on Justice (NPJ) in Abuja on August 10. The adoption is to address the age-long inefficiency in the sector. Eric Ikhilae examines the policy and its chances of success.

The judiciary is the last hope of the common man. But there is a cloud of doubt on this claim in Nigeria. The justice delivery system has, over the years, been plagued with many challenges. Its ability to effectively serve the people has resulted in dwindled public confidence in the system’s capacity to deliver justice to the deprived.

Undue delay in justice administration; lack of accountability and transparency; paucity of skilled manpower; weak institutional capacity; poor work ethics and application of outmoded laws, among others, have been identified as core of the challenges bedevilling the institution.

The road to a National Policy Justice

On assumption of office as the Minister of Justice & Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN), realised the danger posed to democracy and good governance by the then prevailing state of affairs in the justice system. He immediately initiated moves to turn around the unenviable state.

One of the early steps taken was the constitution of a technical committee, made up of law experts from the private and public sectors.

The committee had the mandate to suggest ways the nation could ensure a wholesome reform of the various components of its justice sector for efficiency.

At the conclusion of its assignment, the committee came up with what became the first draft of the National Policy on Justice (NPJ).

The draft was subsequently scrutinised by the various stakeholders at the federal and state levels, with activities facilitated by the Federal Justice Sector Reform Coordinating Committee (FJSRCC).

 

To further fine-tune the policy, an improved draft copy was distributed to participants during the technical sessions held for stakeholders at a three-day National Summit on Justice in Abuja, last week.

The sessions, attended by major players in the justice sector, afforded participants the opportunity to engage in a final assessment of the draft policy and make further inputs.

Participants at the session included: the Solicitor-General of the Federation, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) of the Federation, states’ Attorneys-General, Solicitors-General and DPPs from the states and experts from the academia and Civil Society organisations (CSOs).

The final copy of the policy was presented to stakeholders for adoption by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, who chaired the last day of the summit on August 10.

The policy

The 37-page document, a copy of which was sighted by The Nation, is divided into four parts. It addressed 17 themes, under which the various identified challenges of the sector were treated.

The first part explains the need for the policy, which it said was driven by the need to ensure a uniformity of purpose among all institutions and players in the justice sector to address identified challenges and allow for efficiency.

Part two identified the policy’s goal and objectives.

According to proponents of this policy, its main goal is to ensure “a justice system that inspires confidence, keeps society secure and safe, and provides a conducive environment for smooth social interactions and a flourishing economy.”

Its objectives include: to engender synergy and cooperation across the justice sector nationally – both at the national and state levels; promote independence and impartiality of the judiciary and ensure fair and speedy dispensation of justice and effective enforcement of court decisions.

The policy also seeks to ensure openness, transparency and accountability in the justice sector and its capacity to curb corrupt practices and abuse of office; promote human rights and access to justice for all, particularly the poor, weak and vulnerable, and to promote correctional and restorative justice and alternative dispute resolution.

It also seeks to maintain the role of the justice sector in enhancing national security, supporting fair, credible and violence-free elections and facilitating economic growth.

The third part examines the identified challenges plaguing the sector and suggested ways of addressing the problems, which it addressed under 17 different themes.

Part four spells out strategies for implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

The policy clarified that it has no intention to supplant existing policies relating to specific institutions and justice administration process, like the National Judicial Policy, the National Policy on Prosecution and the National Security Policy, but to support and promote their objectives.

Theme One, for instance, deals with “fair and expeditious dispensation of justice”, with the policy identifying prolonged delay, outmoded legislation, inadequate infrastructure and facilities shortage of skills and poor work ethics and major challenges.

As a way out, the policy suggested a number of strategic interventions, including review of existing procedural laws, review of judgments enforcement procedures, enhanced monitoring of lawyers’ professional conduct and adoption of training plans by justice sector institutions.

Under Theme Two, which treats the issue of “human rights protection” identified weakness in the implementation of the mandate of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), absence of mechanisms for the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights and the seeming general acceptance of impunity in the land as major hindrances to citizens’ rights protection in the country.

As way of addressing this, the policy tasks the NHRC to, within the next three years, design and implement “a suitable review mechanism for encouraging and assessing compliance by the federal and state governments with the economic, social and cultural rights enshrined in the Constitution and international treaties.”

It also suggested an enhanced funding and implementation of the National Action Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights with the establishment of Human Rights Fund by the NHRC, to be funded by both the federal and state governments.

To further enhance citizens’ rights protection, the policy tasked the Attorneys-General at federal and state levels to ensure enhanced enforcement of court’s judgment, particularly where it affect government agencies.

Theme Eight examines ways of strengthening judicial independence and suggested the need for a mechanism by stakeholders, including representatives of the CSOs, for effective monitoring of the implementation of guideline for judicial appointment enacted by the National Judicial Council (NJC) in 2016.

The policy saddles the NJC with the responsibility of leading the reform of the oversight system of the judiciary. The policy requires the NJC to, within the next six months, “set up a committee, with broad representation from the wider justice sector and civil society, to review the oversight mechanisms of the judiciary at all levels and recommend reform to ensure greater effectiveness, independence and transparency, including establishing and strengthening of regular inspection and reporting systems for all the lower courts.”

To further strengthen judicial independence, the policy suggested an enhance security provisions for judicial officers.

In this regard, it directs the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) to, within six months, “conduct an assessment of the security needs of the judiciary and in collaboration with other security and law enforcement agencies, take action to close the gaps.”

Theme Nine identified the absence of joint leadership and common vision for progress, weak and outmoded framework of collaboration, and inadequate coordination among justice sector institutions as being responsible for the lack of synergy and cooperation across the justice sector.

To enhance collaboration among these institutions, the policy requires that federal and state governments support their justice sector reform and coordination groups to meet periodically at the national level to encourage mutual support, dissemination of knowledge and sharing of lessons and best practices.

It adds that “an annual national justice sector summit of all justice actors, institutions and stakeholders across the nation and at the federal and state levels will be organised and institutionalised to provide strategic leadership and direction to the sector and promote joint planning, monitoring and evaluation of its (the sector’s) development.”

Theme 10 stresses the need for enhanced openness, transparency and accountability in the workings of judicial sector institutions.

As part of measures to ensure this, the policy suggests the need for improved compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FoIA), and the enactment of more anti-corruption legislation like the laws on whistle-blower protection, witness protection and proceeds of crime, among others.

To allow for cooperation in the investigation and prosecution of corruption cases, the policy recommends collaboration at “leadership, management and operational levels” among the various investigating and prosecuting agencies.

It also recommends the creation of specialised anti-corruption sub-division, to be manned by “competent judges of repute, “to expeditiously and impartially treat cases of corruption and abuse of office and promote efficiency and specialisation.”

The policy equally suggests the establishment of anti-corruption agencies by states “to complement the work of the federal anti-corruption agencies and work with them in synergy and cooperation.”

Theme 13 identified the importance of information and communication technology (ICT) in enhancing the speed of operations within the justice system. It advocates the need for enhanced deployment of ICT in the sector and improvement in the ICT skills of operators in the sector.

Theme 14 draws a parallel between an efficient justice sector and national security. It recommends that the AGF and states’ AGs work jointly to evolve ways of ensuring a synergy between the security and justice sectors.

This, it suggests, could be achieved where operators in the security sectors take into account the demands of the justice sector in the formulation of security policies and taking of security decisions.

Theme 16 identified the strategic role of the justice sector in ensuring, growing and sustaining a fair, credible and violence free electoral process and suggested necessary strategic interventions required to ensure that the justice sector effectively plays this role.

The policy recommends, among others, the implementation of some key innovative recommendations contained in the reports by Mohammed Uwais-led Electoral Committee of 2011 and Ken Nnamani-led Constitution and Electoral Reform Committee of 2017.

Some of these recommendations include the suggestion for the unbundling of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), reform of the process of appointing INEC Chairman, reforming the electoral process to further accommodate the disabled and Diaspora Nigerians and need for improvement in the quality of trial in electoral cases.

On implementation, the policy recommends the implementation of action plans, where each implementing institution and the federal and state Justice Sector Reform Teams (JSRTs) is required to, within the first six months of adoption of the policy, prepare an implementation plan of action relating to the interventions for which they are responsible.

The policy stipulates that such plans should include baselines, periodic targets, timelines, budgets, allocation of specific responsibilities and other elements of good action plans, which should form a component of the overall justice sector plan of the federal and state governments.

The NPJ places on the JSRT, with leadership from the federal and state Attorneys-General, the burden of disseminating the various provisions of the policy among all stakeholders, including relevant institutions of government, academic institutions, the civil society and the citizenry.

The policy stipulates that the overall responsibility for the monitoring and periodic evaluation of its implementation lies with the Annual National Summit on Administration of Justice (ANSAJ).

The summit is expected to be held every year to receive reports from the JSRTs and other implementing institutions, review progress and give leadership and direction. The NPJ stipulates that the FJSRCC, under the Federal Ministry of Justice, will serve as ANSAJ’s Secretariat.

Assessment of the policy

Presenting the final copy of the policy for adoption, Onnoghen described it as an initiative, whose time has come.

Represented by Justice Mary Odili, a Supreme Court Justice, the CJN said the perennial delay in the judicial process could be effectively eliminated by streamlining rules of procedure in courts.

The CJN noted that although it may be difficult to achieve uniformity of court procedure nationwide in view of existing differences in religion, culture and legal procedures, efforts should be directed at ensuring a system that guarantees fair play and equity.

He said: “The common man should see the justice system as impartial. There should be improved justice dispensation, elimination of delays and reduction in cost of litigation.

“It is hoped that the policy will achieve this goal of building consensus among justice sector institutions and practitioners for the purpose of addressing collectively, the major challenges facing the justice delivery system in the country.”

Senate President Bukola Saraki pitched tent with Nigerians on their agitation that the justice administration system must be urgently reformed to enable it cope with current day challenges.

Represented by Senator David Umoru, the Senate President observed: “Cciminals have become smarter with technology, there is an upsurge in terrorism and crimes, hitherto unimagined like the senseless and brutal kidnapping of Nigerians, was a crime never envisaged in the past.

“It is my clear belief that in order to restore confidence amongst Nigerians in our justice system, judicial reforms need to be institutionalised. It must be constantly reviewed to reflect the constant dynamics of the society.

“It should not be treated like a one off project or a talk show, but a workable template must be adhered to. The success of an effective judicial system is measured not only by the number of cases that it manages to dispose of, but also, and more importantly, by the amount of litigation which is avoided because the rights and obligations of parties are ascertainable in advance.

“Ensuring effective access to justice is one of the most important issues facing our justice system today”, Saraki said.

Malami, whose speech was read by the Solicitor -General of the Federation (SGF), Taiwo Abidogun, explained that the national justice policy is intended to provide a blueprint that outlines the various reforms desirable in the justice sector to engender smooth, fair, just and transparent administration of justice in the country.

He added: “The policy will provide the needed professional guidance for all justice sector institutions in the discharge of their duties and the attainment of an effective and efficient administration of justice.”

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, Abubakar Mahmoud (SAN), hailed the initiative, describing it as a necessary policy.

He said his association was currently working on ways to ensure necessary reforms within the legal profession for the benefit of all.

Doubt over NPJ’s success

Some lawyers have however expressed scepticism about the success of the policy. Dr. Timothy Ugajah and Abdulazeez Mumuni said that much as the policy was welcomed, the problem lies with the implementation as has been the tradition with past governments.

Ugajah noted that most of the policy’s provisions, though commendable, appear vague and not implementable.

He wondered how the Federal Government that was yet to fully implement the Child Rights Act, enacted many years ago, can compel the states to adopt the law and implement it in full, as recommended under Theme Four.

Mumuni, who noted that time, was of the essence, expressed doubt if the present administration will commit itself to the provisions of the policy within its remaining term of office. His reservations were drawn from the fact that successive governments hardly adopt continuity.

He said: “For example, the policy talks about the setting up of a central fund, to be managed by the ANSAJ Secretariat, to take care of the expenses connected with the annual summit, monitoring and evaluation of the policy’s implementation, and other management functions of the secretariat.

“It also stipulates that the policy will be fully reviewed after five years from the date of adoption. But, I ask, will these lofty dreams not die with this administration, where it fails to earn a re-election?”

Source: The Nation

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