Discordant tunes over establishment of specialised anti-corruption courts

Babatunde Fashanu, SAN

Babatunde Fashanu, SAN

Quakers, SAN

Quakers, SAN

The need to establish a specialised court to try corruption cases is currently raising debate among lawyers and industry stakeholders. While some believe now is time for the specialised courts, others think it is not yet time and not really necessary.

A Lagos-based Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Babatunde Fashanu is in support of the call for the establishment of a ‘special court’ that would focus on corruption cases.

Fashanu in his reaction to the need for the

Oludaramola SAN

Oludaramola SAN

special court said it is a welcome idea that will help President Muhammadu Buhari in his anti-corruption fight.

He noted the anti corruption panel should select judges who are well associated with the judicial system by virtue of long law practice, noting that criteria be formulated for the screening process.

According to him, it is heartwarming to learn that the anti-corruption panel is planning with President Buhari to set up special anti corruption courts throughout the Federation and are screening judges for the courts.

“It is not surprising, however, to learn that many judges are failing the test. I humbly suggest as someone well associated with the judicial system by virtue of my long law practice that the following criteria be added to the screening process if not already in place.

“Judge must not be living beyond his means, which can easily be checked against his salaries and entitlements and lifelong earnings, legacies, benefits and investments along with that of his immediate family. Avoid lazy Judges who find it difficult to sit in court promptly and are late in delivering judgments and rulings.

“A judge must be bold and fearless in his conduct of cases and delivery of judgments no matter whose ox is gored, however, not one sided and overbearing having regard to protective provisions as to fair hearing for the accused in the Nigerian Constitution.

“A judge should have some experience of handling criminal cases either on the bench or as counsel (for prosecution or defence) to ensure that he doesn’t have to start learning the practical aspects of criminal law and procedures in the special court, which will open him to bamboozling by well oiled SANs or smart defence counsel”, the senior advocate stated.

Fashanu also called for extra security arangements for the judges and their family who will sit over such corruption cases.

“Having said that, extra arrangements should be made for the security of the judges and their families in terms of their safety and monetary convenience having regard to the potential danger and temptation they face trying very rich and powerful people.

“Arrangements must also be made to ensure that they are thoroughly independent of the executive arm of government by including provisions as to their safety, emoluments and security of tenure in the law setting up the courts, to draw their funds directly from a consolidated source”, Fashanu said.

But who will guard the guard? “The committee must also work on how to keep the judges in check without stepping on their space of independence. That’s a tough one but I’m sure the committee is equal to the task having regard to its composition”, he suggested.

Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria and partner in Afe Babalola Chambers, Olu Daramola said he considered the issue of a specialized court as overdue. He stated that the social problems which the country is facing today such as Boko Haram, arm robbery, poverty and others are some of the resultant effect of corruption.

“Therefore, if the government now decides to want to tackle corruption by setting up a Special court, to try corruption matters within a time frame, it is a good development. But they should be careful in picking judges either new or from existing courts and the constitution must be amended such that it will have legitimacy, otherwise it may brew crisis”, he declared.

Former Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Lagos state branch and current second Vice President NBA, Taiwo O. Taiwo also affirmed that there is nothing bad in having a specialized court now that corruption has become so endemic in our society.

To him, it is not that the regular court have not been doing their work, but the point is it takes longer and if there is any arrangement to try people for corrupt practices and conclude such cases within a short time, it is good, so far is done in accordance to the rule of law.

But a Lagos based Senior Advocate of Nigeria and Principal Partners, Jireh & Greys Attorneys, Norrison Quakers, disagrees. He expressed his view thus: “We don’t actually need a specialized court to try corruption since we have existing courts at all levels of the Federation. And it is not the function of the executive arm of government to establish court, but that of the legislature and if that will be done, it should be by collaboration by all arms of government.

“Given the present situation of our society, where corruption has pervades both private and public sectors, and which I think informed the present administration of the need for a special court, what we need to do, is to reform the judiciary, appoint credible judges, tackle issues of enforcement of laws and address causes of failure in the existing judicial sector.

“Judicial officers must be monitored and performances evaluated for commendation or sanction when necessary. To me, it is not going to be economical for a government that is considering ways to cut cost of governance and it will amount to duplication of functions.”

In the same vein an Akure based legal practitioner, Remigious Akinbinu expressed reservations about the setting up of the courts. For him, emphasis should be on the integrity of judges who adjudicate on corruption cases. His words: “In this country, I think intention matters most in whatever we are doing. If President Buhari has good intention about it, good, but you know as a lawyer, my normal reaction would be that, we already have courts that has been and can still try corrupt people.

“But if this administration insist on this, the point is that they must abide by the constitution and if you are creating new court, are you going to bring Judges from heaven? Sincerely speaking, I don’t think that is the problem with corruption because if we try corrupt people in the regular courts or special courts, it is still before the Judges.”

He rather advocated for the strengthening of the existing courts. “So why not streghten the Judiciary, ensure its independence and also make sure the Judges are in-corruptible than ever? Is corruption the only problem we have? No, so if we create special court to try corruption and is been filled up with credible and incorruptible Judges, what about other sphere of the Judiciary, shouldn’t we take care of them? To me, I believe in streghening the existing courts, ensuring credible judges are appointed. And like I said earlier, if the government has good intention of the country at heart and really want to fight corruption through the special court, then it may be all well and good”, he summed up.

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