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Three-man panel suitable to man election tribunal, says Murktar

By Editor   |   11 May 2010   |   12:04 pm  
THERE is a Bill before the National Assembly, which is seeking to reduce the number of members of the election petition tribunal in 2011 from five to three for what the honourable members may regard as manageable size. If it sails through, election tribunals from 2011 will no longer have more than three Justices to determine election cases.

It is on this basis THE GUARDIAN’S ABIODUN FANORO sought the opinion of the presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, Justice Hussein Murktar.

Justice Murktar supports the bill and says it is the only way to stop poaching of too many judges from the courts which affects other cases going on at the various nation’s courts. He also believes that three justices in a panel will improve quick dispensation of justice at the Excerpts:tribunals.

HOW can law and advocacy be an instrument for social change?

As a matter of fact, there is no tool for social change more than law and advocacy. Apart from social change, economic change and growth are best obtained from the function of law and advocacy. It is a well-known fact that economic reform is always a product of legislation. Of course, some decisions of the courts also bring about social and economic changes. A lot of reforms and changes in the social life of the people have, indeed, taken place through the development of the law and advocacy. Examples abound everywhere in the country. One that readily comes to mind is a situation where the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared certain persons as winners in election, but after subjecting these victories to the tool of the law and advocacy in form of petition to the courts, the rightful owners were discovered and were handed their most- deserved victories. Through this process, social and political changes had been caused, using the instrument of law and advocacy. This kind of social and political change is what is much- needed to move the country forward on the platform of equity, fairness and justice. Where justice has been done, when the lawful winner of an election has been duly acknowledged and allowed to enjoy the fruit of his victory, it is the country and its people that enjoy the greater benefit in form of law and other and stability that immediately followed it.

So, the law is an instrument for social justice?

Yes, the law is an instrument for social justice, for social change, and it is through the law that you can have meaningful and acceptable changes. This is because whatever change you have that is not backed by the law would not be acceptable to the society. Such changes would neither be respected by the society nor practised by them. Also, such changes could not be enforced by law enforcement agencies. No matter how good and desirable they could be, they are bound to die natural death.

What is your comment on the decision of the Senate to reduce members of election petition tribunal from five to three?

That is part of the recommendations of the Justice Mohammed Uwais Electoral Reform Committee. In fact, I am of the opinion that this would help to achieve a greater achievement when handling petitions from future elections. This would reduce the delay in dispensing justice at the various election petition tribunals. It would help provide adequate manpower for the tribunal without the near total crippling of activities of the ordinary court, which had been the case. The significance of allowing the normal courts to continue with their work while the tribunals are on would not be over-emphasised. This means for instance, administration of justice would continue un-impeded in the ordinary courts. This is bound to impact positively on peace and security as well as law and order.

Apart from the above, it could also make it possible to establish Election Petition Tribunal on senatorial basis, unlike the current one per state that we operate now. Of course, you and I know the implications of this. It would lead to a quick disposal of election petitions resulting from all the various elections. This simply means that each panel would handle lesser petitions.

Would this not make it easily possible for members of the panel to be reached and to also compromise?

As a matter of fact, judicial officers must jealously guide their integrity. If a judicial officer could be influenced by whatever means, except through the law, I think it is most unfortunate. What the system is striving to have at all times are judicial officers who are God- fearing, who are persevering, who are of un-questionable characters and integrity.

If three could be influenced, then 10 could also be influenced. But I am proud to say that all the calibre of judges paraded at all levels of our courts are God-fearing, they are of impeccable character; they are patriotic and are very hard working. Our judges are those that are ready always to administer justice without fear or favour. But where you have judges that compromise all these, then the country is being prepared for anarchy. And to guide against this, the mode of appointment of judges today have been reviewed and strengthened. Unlike before, would-be judges are heavily screened, they even appear for physical screening and interview. Before now, what was being used was security report by security agencies, but today, they are physically screened.

How could we check rising cases of industrial strike by judicial workers?

I think there are faults on both sides: government and workers. Judicial workers are not supposed to go on strike like other workers in other sectors. They are supposed to guard and protect the integrity of the judiciary. On the other side, the government is also not helping matters because the salaries and allowances of these workers are too low, if you compare it with what obtain in other Commonwealth countries.

It is only good if they are well-paid, this would go ahead to prevent corruption in the system, which more than often emanated from them. If they were well-paid, it would reduce tendency for corruption and some leakages often experienced in the system. This would also help to put them on their toes to work harder.

What if these workers are paid by the National Judicial Commission (NJC) as done to judges throughout the country?

NJC is not responsible for salaries of judges, it only pays it, it is the conduit pipe. The salaries only come to the NJC from the Consolidated Account. Support staffers are not paid from the Consolidated Account and I don’t think the account should be over-stressed. Notwithstanding this, they could still be well paid from the usual government purse. They are not asking that they be paid from the Consolidated Account, what they are asking for is that they should be well-paid. To me, this is a well-deserved right which government must respect.

This would help reduce the delay in dispensing justice at the various election petition tribunals. It would help provide adequate manpower for the tribunal without the near total crippling of activities of the ordinary court, which has been the case.



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