‘Illegality of Judicial Officers Participating in Workshops Sponsored by Likely Parties Before Them’ – By Douglas Ogbankwa, Esq.

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Douglas Ogbankwa, Esq.
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‘Illegality of Judicial Officers Participating in Workshops Sponsored by Likely Parties Before Them’ – By Douglas Ogbankwa, Esq.

A Judicial Officer by definition is a not a civil servant. A judicial officer is an official of the Judiciary that does Justice to either private individuals or public and private institutions.

So, it is against the Code of Conduct for Judicial officers, the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (As Amended) and against Public Morality for Judicial officers to attend workshops, seminars and symposia organised and  sponsored by public institutions that are likely to be Parties before the same Judicial officers.

Article 13.4 of the Revised Code of Conduct for Judicial officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states:

“Business and financial activities the

(i) A Judicial officer may own investments and real property, provided  that in the management of his investments, he shall not serve as an officer, director, manager, general partner, adviser or employee of any business entity.

(ii) Otherwise permissible investment or business activities will be seen  see prohibited if they:

(a) Tend to reflect adversely on judicial impartiality,

(b) Interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties,

(c) Exploit the judicial position; or

(d) Involve the Judicial Officer in frequent transactions with legal practitioners or with people likely to come before the judicial officer’s court.”

So, what this Article of the Revised Code of Conduct presupposes is that a judicial officer is not supposed to carry out activities that will involve the officer in frequent transaction with legal practitioners or with people who are likely to come before their courts.

Let us take a hypothetical scenario. Some judicial officers from all across the country attend a workshop organised by “ABC”, an institution of the Federal Government. The “ABC” pays their flight tickets, hotel accommodation, takes care of their feeding and gives payments for attending the seminar. How can we guarantee the Independence of such judicial officers when cases that concern The “ABC” comes before them or how do we preclude ex parte communications between the Judicial officers and officials of the “ABC”, that may compromise the fair Administration of Justice.

Such transactions are quite untidy and leave much to be desired and it is against the extant provisions of the Revised Code of Conduct for Judicial officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

  • This is as provided for by Article 13.5. of the Revised Code of Conduct for Judicial officers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria ,which provides thus: “Acceptance of gifts

A Judicial Officer and members of his family shall neither ask for nor accept any gift, bequest, favour or loan on account of anything done or omitted to be done by him in the discharge of his duties.

A Judicial officer is, however, permitted to accept:

(i) Personal gifts or benefits from relatives or personal friends to such extent and on such occasions as are recognised by custom.

(ii) Books supplied by publishers on a complementary basis.

(iii) A loan from lending institution in its regular course of business on the same terms generally available to people who are not judicial officers;

(iv) A scholarship or fellowship awarded on the same terms applied to other applicants.”

So, from the provisions above, can it be said that any payments made to a Judicial officer, for  attending a seminar organised by  an Institution of the Federal Government  is not a “gift, bequest, favour … on account of anything done or omitted to be done by him in discharge of his duties” ?

The Judiciary like Caesar’s Wife must be above board. Such acts or omissions, which give right-thinking members of the public any impression to the contrary must be avoided at all times.

The National Judicial Institute (NJI) is a creation of statute, established specifically for the Training and Retraining of Judicial officers and staff of the Judiciary. The institute should be properly funded to do so. The specialised training now illegally organised by these Federal Government institutions, should be organised and conducted by the NJI, which is statutorily mandated to do so.

Any training carried out by an institution of government for judicial officers who will end up adjudicating over Matters ,where such Institutions of Government will end up being Parties ,before the same judicial officers who have received payments of any kind ,  from them, is an illegality ab initio and it even offends Section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,1999 (As Amended,), which states that a court shall be constituted in a manner that guarantees its independence. Such ex- parte transactions by Judicial officers with institutions of the government in the guise of training does not guarantee the independence of the Judiciary. This practice must stop.

The National Judicial Council (NJC) should enforce it own Rules and issue a circular to the effect, that such ex-parte transactions are now prohibited. The NBA at the local and national levels, should tackle this issue head on and call the attention of the relevant authorities to this abnormality.

A Judicial officer by his oath of office is obligated to perform his duties, “without any affection or ill will”.

This must be put into practice. The truth is bitter, but it should be said as it is.

Douglas Ogbankwa is the immediate past Publicity Secretary,  NBA, Benin Branch.

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