The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloma Mukhtar, has initiated sweeping changes across the courts that will enable them conclude criminal cases on time as against the present arrangement where it takes years to conclude such cases.
In this regard, the CJN is working with chief judges of states’ high courts, the Abuja High Court, the Federal High Court and presiding justices of the various divisions of the Court of Appeal to put in place an efficient system that will eliminate delays in criminal trials.
Under the scheme, a model practice direction was developed for all courts to fast-track trials of offences involving terrorism, rape, kidnapping, corruption, money laundering, human trafficking and related matters.
Copies of the practice direction prepared for all the states’ high court, the Abuja High Court and the Federal High Court were exclusively obtained by THISDAY.
In what may yet turn out to be her biggest achievement, Justice Mukhtar has also extended the practice direction to the Supreme Court and the Appeal Court.
The new practice direction for the Supreme Court, which will soon be signed by the CJN, now requires lawyers to leave their phone numbers and emails so that notices of court sittings can be communicated to them quickly.
The new practice direction reads: “In exercise of the powers conferred on me by Section 236 of the Constitution, as amended, Order 10 Rule 2, Supreme Court Rules, 1999, and by virtue of all other powers enabling me in that behalf, I Aloma Maria Mukhtar, GCON, Chief Justice of Nigeria, hereby issue the following Practice Directions for the Supreme Court.”
Titled, “Criminal Appeals Relating to the Offences of Terrorism, Rape, Kidnapping, Corruption, Money Laundering, Human Trafficking and Related Matters”, the new practice direction seeks to establish a specialised system of case management in the Supreme Court that will provide for fair, impartial, expeditious administration of criminal appeals arising out of the cases listed above.
The new rules under the practice direction shall be applied to eliminate unnecessary delays in the transmission and conduct of appeals and reduce the expense and time spent on appeals by all parties involved in the criminal justice system.
It will also enable the CJN to fast-track the hearing and determination of appeals in respect of cases which fall under the offences of terrorism, rape, kidnapping, corruption, money laundering and human trafficking.
The new rules will “reduce the time spent on hearing and determination of interlocutory applications both at the trial court and on appeal and minimise the avenues for parties to make use of interlocutory applications as means to frustrate or delay the expeditious conduct of cases at the courts below; and
“Minimise undue adjournments and delays occasioned by counsel.”
To this end, the new rules try to reduce the excesses of lawyers and the tactics they often employ to frustrate criminal trials.
The rules provide: “No party may serve a notice of an application on another party on the date scheduled for hearing.”
Parties and their lawyers are also expected to furnish the court registrar with their primary and secondary telephone (GSM) numbers and email addresses.
The new rules also abridged the time within which records must be complied and transmitted to appellate courts.
In this regard, the court registrar is empowered to within seven days summon the parties to settle the documents to be included in the record of appeal.
Parties in criminal cases, particularly those relating to the offences of terrorism, rape, kidnapping, corruption, money laundering and human trafficking, will no longer be allowed to amend their notices of appeal more than twice.
The Supreme Court will also give priority to appeals involving the cases listed above and where possible hear such appeals on a day-to-day basis until final determination of the appeals.