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Judges may face sanctions for delaying criminal cases

Ade Adesomoju, Abuja

Judges are likely to be queried and sanctioned if they fail to conclude criminal cases assigned to them within set time.

This is contained in the new National Judicial Policy inaugurated by the National Judicial Council in Abuja on October 24.

The NJP came into force earlier in April, 2016.

There have been instances before the advent of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, when criminal cases, involving politically-exposed persons or other influential Nigerians, dragged on for over a decade.

But the new NJP requests federal and state judiciaries to set targets for the completion of various categories of cases, including criminal matters.

Sub-section 2.5.2 of the policy provides that judges must be made to provide reasons for failure to dispose of criminal cases within the target time.

This directive, captured under the policy on judicial performance in section 2.5 of the NJP, seeks to focus on “strategies to strengthen judicial performance through constant monitoring and evaluation and through continuous monitoring and assessment of the adequacy of the facilities available to judges for efficient performance.”

The policy categorises cases as small claims, fast-track cases, complex criminal cases, and normal civil cases, but goes ahead to impose duties on judiciary authorities to demand explanation from judges who fail to conclude criminal cases within time.

It seeks to strengthen the quarterly evaluation mechanisms already put in place and introduce new measures to ensure “improved performance of judicial officers.”

The policy reads in part, “Such measures will include measures to:

“Promote self-evaluation by judges and by state and federal judiciaries;

“Request each judiciary to devise time utilisation and management and monitoring mechanisms and guidelines by judges;

“Request state and federal judiciaries to set targets for completion of cases classified as: small claims, fast-track cases, complex cases, criminal cases and normal civil cases and monitor compliance.

“Demand that reason be given for criminal cases not disposed of within the set target period.”

The policy also makes it mandatory for each judiciary to submit action plan on how to clear backlog of civil cases.

It adds that the measures for improved performance of judicial will “require each judiciary to submit action plan and strategies for clearing backlog of civil cases pending for more than three months and criminal cases pending for more than 18 months;

“Require each judiciary to submit to an annual judicial system audit and survey of the effectiveness and efficiency of its judicial system.”

The NJP covers other issues such as judicial appointment policy, judicial discipline policy, judicial code of conduct policy, judicial education and training policy, case flow management policy, judicial administration and court management policy and transparency and anti-corruption policy, among others.

The NJP deals with Judicial Discipline Policy under Section 2.2, where it makes provisions for the Judicial Discipline Regulations.

It states in its Section 2.2.3 that the Judicial Discipline Regulations may specify among other 16 items, the procedure of investigation of a judge, powers of council to order a review and composition of review body, and powers of interim suspension by NJC.

But the NJC had said, acting in line with NBA’s suggestion, by suspending judges under probe without receiving petitions against them and probing the petitions, would violate Section 158 of the Constitution.

The NJP, also among others, directs that any petition filed against a judge that is leaked or discussed in the media before or after it is submitted for investigation, will not be entertained.

It also reiterates the Code of Conduct for Judicial Officers barring judges from accepting gifts.

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