Justice Walter Onnoghen, the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), said on Monday that the system of training lawyers in Nigerian universities should be reviewed in order to restore integrity in the judiciary. He also said the judiciary needed knowledgeable men of honour and integrity to deal with executive recklessness.
Justice Onnoghen stated this at the first bi-annual lecture of the Lagos State Judiciary held at the Lagos City Hall, Lagos, while speaking on the theme, ‘Judicial Standards, Integrity, Respect and Public Perception: A Comparative Analysis From Independence In 1960 into the Present Millennium’.
The CJN, who was represented by Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, lamented that appointment of judges had become highly politicised as a governor of a state would not approve names of persons nominated for the bench for NJC scrutiny if the names of his candidates were not included on that list.
He expressed regrets that the system of making appointment to the judiciary, which the country inherited from Britain, was such that the whole of the judiciary was dependent on practising lawyers for its personnel. He advised that law be made a second-degree course in the universities, pointing out that this would help reduce the current influx of young people into the faculties of law across the country and in turn help produce more mature minds who truly desire to be lawyers.
He suggested that lawyers desirous of appointment to the bench should, in addition to the ten years post call requirement, have a postgraduate degree in law in order to “sharpen their intellect and widen the educational horizon of the lawyers and, of course, the future judges”.
He added: “We cannot build a strong judiciary from a weak bar. A situation where our current law undergraduates cannot take notes nor write exams with a good command of English Language is regrettable. “We have inherited the British judicial system along with conservative tradition.
“My plea is that we must free ourselves from this conservatism and build a Judiciary having not only the will but also the intellectual capability to contribute to our national development; in order to meet with the country’s efforts to meet the challenges posed by rapid social, economic, technological and political developments of the present time.”
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who was Chairman of the lecture, said in view of the strategic role occupied by judicial officers in the country, it was important for them to always be above board and uphold ethical standards. Prof Osinbajo was represented by Special Assistant to the President on Economic and Financial Crimes, Biodun Aikomo.
He said: “Judges must be beyond reproach; they must be above board; they must abide by ethics and standards of the profession and dispense justice rightly.”
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State, in his remarks, said the major reforms being implemented in both judiciary and security sectors in the state were targeted at creating a sound pedestal for residents to be productive and in turn boost the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the state.
“I want to say that I am very proud of the judicial sector reforms going on in the State; we are very proud of the work being done by the Chief Judge and the combination of the efforts being carried out by the Attorney General and Chief Judge is something we need to support.
“It is now very obvious that some major reforms are going on in the judicial sector and we are very proud as the executive arm of government to support the judicial sector reforms which we are also complementing with our security sector reforms. “In totality, the reforms are aimed at improving the economy of Lagos and grow the GDP and what is going on in the judicial sector is significant and we are very proud of it,” he said.
In his opening remarks, Justice Opeyemi Oke lauded Governor Ambode for supporting the reforms being implemented in the state judiciary, describing him as a man of vision who was known for pursuit of excellence and international best standards in every area of his administration. Justice Oke said the present administration in the judiciary was desirous of implementing reforms that would improve the administration of justice in the state and set the pace for other states.
She said the lecture, which was the first of its kind not only in Lagos but also in other jurisdictions, was designed to facilitate closer interaction between the judiciary and the bar both in terms of practice and continuing legal education. Justice Oke said the topic of the lecture was intended to be thought-provoking and to prompt stakeholders in the administration of justice sector, assess judicial standards while also inspiring judicial reform initiatives.